Most of us take our abundant supply of food for granted.
When you cook a delicious meal at home, you know that you likely only need to make a quick trip to the supermarket for the ingredients – meaning, you don’t have to grow it all by yourself.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, put it this way:
“Every one of us that is not a farmer, is not a farmer, because we have farmers.”
We’d say we’re lucky – but it’s not luck. It’s thanks to the hard work of America’s farming families and smart farm policies supported by Congress.
A new study from the acclaimed economists Drs. Joe Outlaw and Bart Fischer at the Agricultural and Food Policy Center at Texas A&M, and specially prepared for the Southwest Council of Agribusiness, takes a closer look at these policies and their impact on farm families. Dr. Outlaw joined us on the latest episode of Groundwork.
Being able to enjoy a safe, abundant, and affordable food supply is just one way the Farm Bill works for all Americans.
“I think that the Farm Bill is for the consumer,” Dr. Outlaw said. “If we’re able to provide a safety net that allows [farmers] to try again next year, then that keeps food prices from jumping all around, and it gives us stability.”
The Farm Bill provides a strong foundation for rural America, giving America’s farm families the tools they need to endure the unexpected challenges that come with farming.
And when we say farm families, we mean it. A stunning 98 percent of all farms in America are family-owned. In fact, most of our food production can be attributed to just 200,000-300,000 farm and ranch families.
Dr. Outlaw explained that while the Farm Bill is for every farm producer, its true purpose must be to support those 200,000-300,000 farm and ranch families who are trying to make a living on the farm and producing the bulk of our food and fiber.
“We’re not going to feed this nation and a lot of others that we help feed by worrying about part-time farmers as much as some other people in our government would like to worry about,” he said.
For most farmers, that means growing their farms so they can take advantage of the economies of scale that come with a bigger operation. But bigger farms often mean bigger risks. With farm equipment alone running hundreds of thousands of dollars and inputs costing even more, farmers are risking millions every year to put a crop in the ground.
It’s a fact that the modern farm safety net hasn’t kept up with the increasing risks. Modern pay limits – or the amount of federal Farm Bill assistance a farmer can access – are linked to a 70s-era limit of $55,000 per crop per year. If the $55,000 payment limit for just one crop under the 1970 Farm Bill were adjusted for inflation, the current payment limit would be $413,247.
Instead, farmers are limited to just $125,000 for all crops for ARC and PLC, two programs that pay out assistance to farmers only in bad times.
So as Congress considers the next Farm Bill, it’s important that they understand what’s at stake. Payment limits should be left in the past, or at minimum they must be adjusted to reflect inflation and the long-run costs of farming. The Farm Bill and the policies that support our national food security are not where Congress should be looking to cut costs.
“Why is it up to the American farmer to bear the brunt of [spending cuts]?” Dr. Outlaw said. “We’ve got to have a fair ground for producers to try and compete with, they don’t need to be fighting with both hands tied behind their back.”