The Washington Post Editorial Board recently published an opinion piece arguing that Congress should cut the farm safety net that helps farmers and ranchers navigate disaster and keeps us all fed. Drawing upon discredited anti-farmer reports, they laid out just how disastrous farm policy has been for America:
✅ Supports a “fantastically productive agricultural sector”
✅ Provides a safe, abundant, and affordable supply of food
✅ Is tailored to efficiently address the specific risk management needs of farmers and ranchers
✅ Accounts for about 0.2% of the federal budget, according to CBO projections
… those all sound like great benefits to us, too.
Yet, the Washington Post claims that farm policy should be put on the chopping block.
Senator John Boozman (R-AR), Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, wrote in his published response that the editorial missed the mark and “reinforced the disconnect between urban elites and rural America.” We agree.
We called up Dr. Bart Fischer, Farm Bill veteran and co-director of the Agricultural and Food Policy Center (AFPC) at Texas A&M University, to explain exactly where the Washington Post got it wrong.
MYTH: Current farm policy is a relic of the Great Depression.
Truth: Actually, U.S. farm policy dates back to the very first Congress in 1789 and has been routinely adjusted by Congress to update policies to meet the current need. Modern day farming looks a lot different than the pitchforks of American Gothic – and the Farm Bill reflects that.
MYTH: The government is paying too much for farm policy.
Truth: Protecting America’s food security and food independence requires smart investments. While the farm safety net in the Farm Bill is not free, it is projected to cost only 0.2% of the expected federal budget over the next 10 years. In fact, current Farm Bill funding is historically low – too low. Since the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress has had to spend $93.3 billion in unbudgeted ad hoc disaster assistance to help plug the holes in the farm safety net due to China’s retaliatory tariffs, the pandemic, and a series of severe natural disasters, all of which were beyond our farmers’ and ranchers’ control.
With this year’s Farm Bill, Congress has the opportunity to strengthen the farm safety net and invest in our national food security in a fiscally-responsible way in order to avoid ad hoc assistance down the road.
MYTH: Farmers and ranchers don’t need a financial safety net – they’re doing fine.
Truth: Most Americans have felt the squeeze of inflation, and farmers and ranchers have not been spared. Increased costs have tightened already thin profit margins and are a contributing driver to the forecasted 20.7% decrease in net cash farm income.
Add increasingly volatile weather disasters that can wipe out a farm or ranch in moments and high and rising foreign subsidies, tariffs, and non-tariff trade barriers that seriously hurt American producers, and it becomes clear why America’s farmers and ranchers need a farm safety net. Senator Boozman in his response to the Washington Post noted that farmers borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars for a less than 2% return. “Add in geopolitical risks, pandemics, natural disasters, labor shortages and stagnant trade opportunities, and the value proposition feels dismal,” he wrote.
MYTH: No one ever cuts Farm Bill spending.
Truth: Agriculture is often targeted for disproportionate budget cuts. In 2014, the Farm Bill included $23 billion in deficit reduction. The Agriculture Committees were the only committees of Congress at the time to offer up budget reductions and successfully deliver them. Agriculture has also accounted for about 30% of non-Medicare, non-defense mandatory budget sequestration that cuts support to farmers and ranchers every year. Farmers have borne a disproportionate share of budget cuts.
MYTH: Farmers with more acres don’t need access to the farm safety net.
Truth: The farm safety net allows farmers and ranchers to better manage their extremely high risks. Crop insurance also requires that farmers and ranchers share in the cost of their risk management by requiring producers to pay insurance premiums and deductibles. Full-time farms categorized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “large” farms are responsible for roughly half of total agricultural production. These family farmers and ranchers face immense risks, and it makes no sense to punitively cut the safety net for the farmers and ranchers producing most of America’s food and fiber if national food security is the goal.
The bottom line: The farm safety net is a vital investment that provides a necessary backstop to help a declining number of family farmers and ranchers who are willing to take on enormous personal financial risk each day in order to feed, clothe, and fuel our country and much of the world in a manner that is unrivaled in history. Congress must strengthen the farm safety net in the next Farm Bill.