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Despite turbulent path, experts say farm bill reforms good for farmers
by Caroline Weihl
Many disagreements from policymakers and nonprofit organizations created challenges while finalizing the recently-passed 2014 Farm Bill.
Yvonne Lesicko, senior director of state and national policy at Ohio Farm Bureau, shared that extreme opinions made the process more difficult than anticipated.
“The alliances from the past just aren’t happening,” Lesicko said. “I think that, overall, in the nation, there is this discussion on if we are polarizing ourselves (through political parties and perspectives). The farm bill made it through the stalemate, and I do not think much else has moved (in legislation).”
The 2014 Farm Bill contains 12 titles for an array of programming. The largest changes came in the commodity farm safety net programs. In addition, much of the discussion focused on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and nutrition funding.
Carl Zulauf, professor of agricultural economics at Ohio State University, has assisted in writing past farm bills. He is optimistic about the impacts the 2014 Farm Bill will have on producers in Ohio.
“In terms of the farm safety net, the two big themes that come out of the bill are the elimination of direct (income) payments and the movement towards risk management,” Zulauf said. “We are redesigning the safety net. We are moving it from a set of programs that largely transfer income to producers to a set of programs that largely help producers manage risk. As an aggregate group, the Midwest is very supportive of this transformation.”
Lesicko also agreed that the shift from direct payment to risk management is a step forward for the future of farmers and ranchers.
“This is a real key change in how farm programs are delivered. Most farmers always said that if the direct program was in place, they would use it,” Lesicko said. “Most (farmers) are fiscally conservative. It is about the government being there in case of disaster.”
In all, restructuring of the 2014 Farm Bill programs will result in $16.6 billion saved over 10 years.
Differences persisted in political views on nutrition funding and SNAP. Nutrition makes up nearly 80 percent of the 2014 Farm Bill, and SNAP received $8 billion in cuts.
Colleen Spees, primary investigator for the Ohio State University Food Innovation Center’s “Hunger.FOOD.Health” Food Security Initiative, has followed the development of SNAP over the years and believes nutrition will stay a vital piece of future farm bills.
“Targeted and nutrition education is an essential component in alleviating health disparities and chronic disease. Unfortunately, securing the necessary funding to prove this remains quite challenging,” Spees said.
Young people involved in agriculture are being encouraged to stay involved in farm bill discussions because it can affect them when they begin their careers or head back to the farm.
“There is a lot in here about grants for young farmers and ranchers,” Lesicko said. “Crop insurance premium is reduced for start-up farmers, and they need to pay attention. It is daunting to start their own farm, but they can do it.”
Understanding the entire process of a farm bill can benefit not just an individual farm but also a community, state and the entire agriculture industry.
“It is easy to think the congressional, legislative process is more important because that creates the law,” Zulauf said. “However, how you choose to implement the law has a direct bearing on how it affects individual people.”
Caroline Weihl is a former Ohio Farm Bureau public policy intern. The full version of her article will appear in the 2014 issue of the AgriNaturalist, a student-organized publication of the Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.