It’s budget season on Capitol Hill, and when it comes to the federal budget, there is no better investment than farm policy.
That’s because only a fraction of a percent of federal spending is directed towards the farm safety net. Yet, that small budget supports family farmers, protects our national food security, and drives economic growth.
The House Agriculture Committee recently sent a bipartisan letter outlining exactly what’s at stake when it comes to the Farm Bill budget:
“[T]he farm safety net—commodity programs and crop insurance combined—is projected to account for a mere two-tenths of one percent of federal spending. In return for this modest investment, the farm bill undergirds the food and agriculture sectors, which in 2022 accounted for direct, indirect, and induced output of more than 43 million jobs, $2.3 trillion in wages, $718 billion in tax revenue, $183 billion in exports, and $7.4 trillion in economic activity. We would challenge any Member of Congress to identify other legislation that can take credit for a similar return on investment of federal support.”
A similar bipartisan Senate letter sent by Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR) pointed to “the need for resilient food supply chains and comprehensive risk management tools available to farmers and ranchers.”
Dr. Bart Fischer, a Farm Bill veteran and co-director of the Agricultural and Food Policy Center at Texas A&M University, joined Farm Policy Fact’s Groundwork podcast to put the farm safety net into perspective: “It’s about 2 tenths of 1 percent of the federal budget that secures our entire food supply.”
So, why are farm policy critics targeting the tiny farm safety net with massive budget cuts?
Reducing the deficit is complicated. You must either raise revenue by increasing taxes or cut spending on popular programs. Since most Americans don’t consider how farm policy keeps our country fed, it can be easy for farm policy critics to propose that we balance the budget through cuts to the Farm Bill – and on the backs of farmers.
That’s a short-sighted policy decision, as evidenced by recent Farm Bills. The 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills tailored the farm safety net too far, so that when farmers were hit by a global trade war, a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, and historic weather events one after another, the farm safety net was too narrow to offer much support.
Congress then stepped in with necessary ad hoc spending. “The challenge is, it’s not baseline. It’s all unbudgeted, it’s all new spending,” Dr. Fischer said.
Dr. Fischer explained what’s at stake when it comes to the farm safety net budget:
“Either we make some investments right now to provide a standing safety net that farmers can count on, that’s more sustainable, more predictable, otherwise we find ourselves continuing in this situation where we are likely going to have to provide support after the fact, which often ends up being significantly more costly than it would have been if we had just put the safety net in place.”
“Congress has a decision to make: do they make the investment upfront now to try and provide a little more sustainability to the safety net?”
It’s not enough to continue baseline spending. Congress must strengthen the farm safety net. America’s farmers and ranchers continue to deal with climate uncertainty and inflation pressures, and even a slight dip in commodity prices could leave countless family farms underwater.
As the House Agriculture Committee wrote in their bipartisan letter about Title I in the Farm Bill, the commodity programs:
“Today, the combination of spiking input costs and outdated policy has rendered the commodity title ineffective. Consider the four crops that represent the largest acreage in the U.S.: corn, soybeans, wheat, and cotton. The forecast season average farm price of each commodity would need to fall by roughly 23, 30, 21, and 52 percent, respectively in 2023 to trigger any support under current law. If left unchanged, while production costs remain sticky, many producers would be bankrupt before Title I support provides assistance.”
As Dr. Fischer said, America’s farmers and ranchers are absolutely vital to our nation. And a strong farm safety net is absolutely vital to our farmers and ranchers. We are confident that Congress recognizes the need to protect and strengthen the farm safety net in the next Farm Bill.