It should be called the “Consumer Bill” rather than the Farm Bill that it is usually called. Why? Because it benefits all consumers as much, and in some ways more, than it benefits farmers.
When “farm bills” were originally established by Congress, their primary purpose was, and still is, to be sure we have plenty of food at a reasonable cost for everyone. It is a bill that helps keep farmers in business during difficult times. By keeping then in business, we have been assured of enough food for all of us. In the final analysis, it benefits consumers by helping farmers when there are natural disasters or farm prices drop below their cost of producing the crops or milk.
Farm bills can best be described as safety nets to be sure farmers can stay in business and that we have plenty of food.
Taking a look at the current and past bills, we note that about 80 percent of the money appropriated for them goes to the Food and Nutrition part of the bill. This provides much needed help for those in need who cannot afford to buy enough to feed their families.
Funds for school lunch programs come from this consumer bill as well as funds for other nutrition programs.
With 80 percent of the money going to the food and nutrition programs, that greatly limits the amount available to help farmers during times of disaster or low farm prices. Then much of the 20 percent left goes for conservation programs dictated or encouraged by the government.
So money available for payments to farmers is limited. We sometimes hear that farmers are on the “gravy train” and get huge government payments. Yes, there are some abuses of the system of payments. A few try to get around the regulations and still collect payments. Most farmers, however, have found the bill to be a help in time of need.
No doubt there are also some abuses by some of those who get help through the food and nutrition part of the program. The new farm bill attempts to close those loopholes and save money.
Looking at the cost of this bill, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, it is less than one-half of one percent of the total federal budget. While the cost over five years is a lot of money, it is a small price to pay to help ensure our abundant food supply.
Help through the farm bill has enabled farmers to accomplish a number of conservation practices. They have established over two million miles of conservation buffers in the U.S.
They have reduced erosion by 22 million tons of soil and planted millions of trees plus several more programs related to clean water.
While this bill, called the Agricultural Act of 2014, has passed, writing the rules is up to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmers won’t know exactly what the programs will require until those rules are written. They will have to sort through a lot of decisions to decide what is best for their particular farm.
So we need to keep in mind that this bill benefits consumers as much as farmers, by helping provide us with enough to eat at prices that otherwise could be a lot higher. Those who like to say that farmers are getting rich from the farm bill are just plain wrong.
(Parker is an independent agricultural writer.)