Farm Bill Still In Disrepair

The past few weeks, I have received numerous calls from news reporters asking about the rumor that if we fall off the fiscal cliff a gallon of milk will start costing over $6.00 for you to feed your family. After reassuring each one of them that it wasn’t going to happen, I found myself answering questions about farm bill legislation, farmers’ costs, and what would happen if milk did go that high in your supermarket. The fact that us agricultural types have been talking about the farm bill for a year without very little interest from most media, until someone decides that their next bowl of cereal is going to cost them more like what it costs to fill up their SUV, is what really got my goat in all of this “cliff” falling debate.

Farmers throughout this country started making plans for this year’s crops last year. But those plans have been somewhat on the back burner due to having to wait for Congress to give them a new farm bill. And, they still don’t have a new farm bill, just an extension of the 2008 bill with changes. Why wait you may ask? It’s simple. They would like to know the rules and regulations under which they must operate for the coming season.

Regardless of a farmers best efforts to manage natural and financial risks, they often see their bottom lines destroyed by weather disasters, the crash-and-recover uncertainty of international economics, unfair foreign competition and the confusion of government regulations. Each can take a painful bite off the top of an already slim profit margin. But, a reasonable farm bill helps ease the unknowns and also gives our farmers hope, which hasn’t been all that plentiful lately.

It is important to remember that our federal farm program is based on production. It is a fair program for all parties involved. It is true that those farm families who produce more receive larger payments, but they also take larger financial risks and have significantly higher investments in their farms. When crop prices are depressed, no farm is immune to difficulty.

Money directed to producers through farm programs represents a public investment in the nation’s food, environment and economic security. The farm bill is a solid investment in family farms and the rural communities where they reside.

All consumers reap many benefits from a farm bill, including a high quality, stable and economical food supply that takes less of the consumer’s dollar than any place else in the world. Only ten percent of our disposable income goes to paying our food bills annually in this country.

The farm bill approved by both houses of Congress in the late hours the other night still needs a lot of work, American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said in a statement following the 2008 extension vote. “While much work remains on addressing the spending side of the ledger, the fiscal cliff package that was just approved injected a good dose of certainty into our nation’s tax policy. That is a major achievement. The measure restored the $5 million exemption level for the estate tax, which was in danger of falling to just $1 million. On the minus side, the top estate tax rate increased from 35 percent to 40 percent. Permanent capital gains tax provisions that retain lower rates was a positive point, as was the inclusion of enhanced expensing provisions for businesses,” Stallman said.

He went on to express his dissatisfaction with the efforts of congress over the last months by saying, “Extension of the 2008 farm bill, however, is little more than a stop-gap measure. We are glad that a measure is in place for most of this year, but we are disappointed that Congress was unable or unwilling to roll a comprehensive five-year farm bill proposal into the fiscal cliff package. Now, it will be up to the new 113th Congress to put a new farm bill in place, and we will continue to insist on the kind of reforms that were included in the proposals approved by the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee during the 112th Congress.

“As the new Congress punches in, members already face a huge work order. While the fiscal cliff package addressed the revenue side of the equation, it did not do enough to cut federal spending in a meaningful way. Without  progress on the spending side, we are on a one-way road to fiscal disaster. It is our hope that the new Congress will exercise the leadership needed to put our nation on a path toward fiscal responsibility and agricultural innovation and prosperity.”

Sure, the legislation may not be perfect. However, when have we ever had legislation that really is? It is important to have some type of a farm bill, and with your mouth full and your belt too snug due to over indulgence, we need to be careful how we criticize its purpose. Let’s keep those farmers in the fields and our country, with a strong agriculture, from being dependent on anyone else.



 – Pettus L. Read is editor of the Tennessee Farm Bureau News and Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at