“U.S. agricultural security is national security,” declared Dr. Tammy Beckham, the Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, during a recent Congressional hearing that connected the dots for lawmakers between the ability to produce our own food supply and the ability to defend our nation.
She was one of two witnesses to testify with the other being former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte who also served as the first Director of National Intelligence. Together, they made the case that American agricultural production is a national asset that is critical to ensuring our economic viability. Threats that jeopardize it make us vulnerable.
“U.S. citizens reap the benefits of a robust agricultural industry that provides them with access to a safe, abundant, and affordable food supply that is readily available on the shelves of grocery stores nationwide,” explained Beckham. “This is indeed a privilege that, as you well know, does not exist globally.”
In fact, chief among the litany of challenges for agriculture that they described was optimizing scarce resources in order to at least double food production by 2050 to meet the needs of a growing world population.
But, they also highlighted other worries such as alarming developments across the globe where countries are experiencing increasing political instability and social unrest. Much of this is rooted in food insecurity where these countries import more than half of their food. ISIS, or the Islamic State, was mentioned as a threat along with other terrorist groups not only because of their bent to take advantage of this suffering, but also because they pose a larger threat to our nation through bioterrorism and other means.
“At the center of all these worldwide and regional trends is U.S. agricultural production,” said Negroponte as he pointed out that we are the world’s largest producer of major commodities and livestock, as well as a top exporter of other agricultural goods. “Even in our highly globalized economy, America is still often the world’s swing supplier of food.”
But, the world’s agricultural superpower can’t operate effectively without a sound investment from its own government. As Beckham explained: we’re in “desperate need of additional resources” in order to increase food production, develop countermeasures to threats, and compete globally. “I would put priority on defending our agricultural system,” added Negroponte.
In other words, farm bills are critical to the viability and security of our nation. Further, farm bills should be left alone once they are enacted as it’s challenging enough to stretch what remains of these resources. Farm policy spending is just one-quarter of one percent of the federal budget and yet enables farmers to stay afloat during catastrophic events beyond their control, including economic downturns like the one they are experiencing today.
But, this obvious connection between food security and national security was lost on perennial opponents of U.S. farm policy.
One day after this hearing, Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wisconsin) introduced H.R. 3973, the Assisting Family Farmers through Insurance Reform Measures (AFFIRM) Act, which, if enacted, would do many things to the livelihoods of family farmers, but assisting is not one of them.
This legislation would re-open the 2014 Farm Bill, which is the vehicle for providing assistance to family farmers when they hit hard times, and make devastating cuts to the farm safety net. The AFFIRM Act would destroy risk management tools farmers and consumers rely upon to keep our national food supply secure and affordable.
As President George W. Bush once said, “A nation that can feed its people is a nation more secure.” But, the reality is, the more we chip away at the investment in our national food and fiber supply, the more vulnerable we become.