Don't gut farm bill
Jackson County Floridian – July 24, 2011
Jackson County farmer Jeff Pittman is one of many who are worried about upcoming changes to the federal farm bill.
Among other things, the future of the direct support payment program hinges on how that legislation is modified. Direct support payments guarantee floor prices for farmers under certain conditions, such as when market conditions are poor. Other farm bill measures help farmers when disasters strike their crop.
The programs are meant to keep a safe and abundant food supply growing in America, Pittman said. Poor prices can lead farmers to take their land out of production, selling it for uses that would make it impossible to farm again. The government sets a guaranteed price for crops like cotton and peanuts to prevent this from happening.
The farm bill also supports non-profit research centers like the University of Florida. About 15 percent of the current bill’s funding is used to carry out these and several other support programs.
The farm bill, first enacted after the Great Depression, is reviewed every five years. The 2008 bill is up for review in 2012.
Subsidies within the farm bill have long been the subject of controversy. With the federal deficit growing and pressure for spending cuts increasing, Pittman and many others fear that some support programs may go away altogether, or be essentially gutted.
Farm Bureau Insurance in Mariana brought in Farm Bureau President John Hoblick and others Thursday to talk with member-producers about the direction they want the Farm Bureau to take as it advocates for its membership in farm bill negotiations.
“Everyone knows we have work cut out for us,” Pittman said. “And the general sense is that we understand the challenges in dealing with the economic situation the nation is in, but that agriculture has to be protected. Without a ready food supply within our borders, we have no security. Direct support payments are an important piece of that security.”
The Farm Bureau recognizes that the amounts that have been spent in the past on these programs will have to be scaled back.
“We’re not saying that it’s realistic thinking to believe that there will be no cuts, but the structure needs to be protected,” Pittman said. “We told them that we’d like them to help us do that, to keep the program in the form that it’s written today. The (direct supports) bring a sense of added value to the land that is being farmed today. Without it, the security of our abundant food supply, and therefore our security as a nation could be threatened.”
Pittman said the one of the other important parts of the farm bill involves funding land-grant colleges, like the University of Florida. It provides agricultural and livestock research that is not driven by profit, and as a result, helps farmers access the best varieties, information and technologies at affordable prices.
“There are millions and millions of dollars involved in research,” he said. “We as producers depend on the universities to help us find the varieties that will work for us. We certainly can’t afford that kind of outlay. We don’t even have the margin for error to experiment without this non-biased research behind the things we want to try. It’s absolutely essential for the American farmer.”
Pittman said this may be the most critical farm bill revision in the history of the program.
“We’re at a crossroads,” Pittman said. “This is the biggest crisis. What we’re discussing goes beyond my livelihood all the way to national security. We just hope the people who are putting this bill together recognize that and are willing to act accordingly.”