John C. (Jack) Fisher, Ohio Farm Bureau executive vice president

It’s Your Farm Bill, Too

Same with other philanthropic foundations with names like Ford, Rockefeller and Kellogg. I didn’t tell these zillionaires how to build empires ranging from software to Frosted Flakes; who are they to tell me how to write a farm bill?

These do-gooders say they want to reshape American farm policy. As if the farm bills written over the last 80 years haven’t delivered plentiful, affordable, nutritious food.

I have two words for these know-it-all agricultural outsiders: Welcome aboard.

The farm bill being written now will impact every American’s economic opportunity, health, energy options and environmental priorities, not to mention influence the price and quality of every meal we put on our plates. In short, it’s about the security of your food, family and community. So everyone, from giant philanthropies to concerned soccer moms, deserves a say. Farmers welcome the input, though they prefer dialogue over diatribe. Blaming the farm bill for “dietary and planetary destruction,” as a New York Times writer did, doesn’t exactly contribute to thoughtful discourse.

Getting it right won’t be easy. Our article will give you a feel for the diverse views of what farming should be and how it should operate. For my part, I’d like to share a few thoughts from a farmer’s perspective.

First, the farm bill is not all about payments to farmers. Seventy-five percent of current farm bill spending goes into nutrition and feeding programs. The biggest is food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Last year, 1.6 million Ohioans received $2.7 billion from the farm bill to feed themselves. Nationally, a record 45.8 million Americans received SNAP assistance, 8 percent more than a year ago. Clearly, most of the money for the 2012 Farm Bill will be spent on feeding the needy, not for paying farmers.

Regarding the payments farmers do receive, critics like to call them “handouts,” which suggests taxpayers get nothing in return. In reality, the public gets to weigh in on the operation of privately owned farms. When a farmer opts to participate in a farm program, he agrees to meet public policy goals for what type of food is grown, how much of it and sometimes even the specific farming practices used to grow it. Under these agreements, each American farmer produces enough food to affordably feed 155 people with less environmental impact than ever before. Taxpayers are getting a good return on their public-private partnership.

Farmers also would like to see some perspective brought to the topic of just how much these programs cost. The argument that eliminating farm payments will solve the nation’s budget problems rings hollow when you consider they make up .0014 of the federal budget. That’s 14 cents out of $100. And the cost keeps going lower. Payments under the current farm bill are 45 percent less than the previous bill and are running 20 percent under the current budget. Farmers understand fiscal challenges and they’re willing to do their share. They’d prefer it be a proportionate share.

There’s a reason the farm bill comes up for debate every five years or so. Things change. Consumer expectations, budget realities and risks to farmers are different today than just a couple of years ago. What remains constant is the ability of sound farm policy to keep America secure. That’s why farmers welcome smart people to the conversation. If you have some ideas for the farm bill, send them to me at [email protected]. I’ll read them over and share them with Farm Bureau’s leaders. And if they’re really good, I’ll pass them along to Bill.