Commodity prices are down sharply. Input costs are climbing. Farm incomes are in free-fall. Farm laborers are in short supply. Mother Nature is wreaking havoc on growers. Foreign competitors are manipulating markets with subsidies. Ag lenders are growing nervous.
And one of the only things helping producers weather it all right now is the safety net found in the recently passed Farm Bill that is just now starting to kick in.
Yet anti-farmer forces continue to push for “little tweaks” to the bill. Make no mistake, these tweaks are not benign technical corrections. They are designed to significantly weaken farmers’ main line of help right now, and once the door is cracked for damaging tweaks to farm policy, expect the flood gates to open for wholesale changes.
Some of these calls come from expected places. For example, the Environmental Working Group and Heritage Action would love to tweak crop insurance, thus making it unaffordable, unavailable, and ineffective for farmers.
But other calls for reopening the Farm Bill are emanating from surprising places.
Earlier this month, a group of food manufacturing lobbyists sent a letter to Congress urging a “very modest reform” to the U.S. sugar policy in the Farm Bill.
Sugar policy is primarily built on the provision of loans that sugar processors – mostly farmer-owned cooperatives – must repay in full, with interest. Because the loans are fully paid back after the crop is marketed, sugar policy has operated without taxpayer cost nine of the last 10 years and is projected to cost $0 over the life of the current farm bill.
The “very modest reform” being proposed by policy opponents is to erect artificial loan limits as a way to deny a significant number of sugar processors – and by extension, their farmer members – access to the backbone of the Farm Bill’s sugar safety net. In other words, rendering U.S. sugar policy worthless and leaving all sugar farmers vulnerable to a market grossly distorted by foreign subsidies.
Not exactly “very modest.”
To make their case, the group told lawmakers that sugar processors are the only processors with access to nonrecourse loans, so there is no threat to other commodities.
Yet according to USDA’s Farm Service Agency, cooperatives and marketing associations are eligible to receive such loans on behalf of their farmer members for many crops, including barley, canola, chickpeas, corn, crambe, dry peas, flaxseed, grain sorghum, lentils, mustard seed, oats, peanuts, rapeseed, rice, safflower, sesame seed, soybeans, sunflower seeds, upland cotton, wheat, and wool.
Apparently there’s no need to let stubborn things like facts get in your way when you’re championing to gut farm policy for all farmers while undermining long-established cooperative law.
Whatever the crop, our view is the same. The Farm Bill is needed now more than ever, and no thinly veiled plot by anti-farmer forces to pry open the Farm Bill is acceptable.
An attack on one farmer’s policy is an attack upon all as far as we are concerned. And agriculture’s ability to pull together last week to beat back a sneak attack on crop insurance during the budget process shows how fiercely farmers are willing to fight for one another.
Do not reopen the Farm Bill.