Iowa Public Television


Some Looking for Change in Farm Policy

posted on May 11, 2001

Anemic market prices have pushed Congress for the fourth consecutive year to appropriate "emergency" payments to farmers. Five point 5 billion dollars have already been set aside for this year.

In the meantime the Washington farm lobby is already beginning to swarm in anticipation of the writing of the next farm bill. Interests within the lobby are jockeying to ensure the needs of their constituencies are part of the next farm law. Last week several farm groups were pitching to raise the 460 thousand-dollar limit on farm subsidies that individual farmers can receive.

But an influential organizational situated in the heartland is opposed to raising the cap. Indeed the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs wants lawmakers to lower it, and to take a hard look at the focus of the next farm bill.


Some Looking for Change in Farm Policy

The trend toward larger scales of production and the concentration of more assets into fewer hands must be reversed says the Center for Rural Affairs. To that end the Center says the amount of government subsidy individuals can receive must be reduced

Chuck Hassebrook: "If we want family farms, we have to step back and say the way to get that is to have a farm policy that says we will support a limited volume of production, maybe 250 thousand, maybe a little bit more $250,000 worth of production. We'll support that well, reasonably well and if you get bigger, that's fine you'll still get support on $250-thousand worth of production but you don't continually get more and more money from the government just because you're getting bigger."

Chuck Hassebrook is director of the Center. Unlike other farm advocacy groups, the agenda of his organization is to prod the next farm bill to reach beyond the farm gate and to fashion policy that is comprehensive and applicable to all of Rural America.

Hassebrook: "And what we're proposing is that we refocus the federal dollars that we invest in rural development programs on programs that provide lending, that provide technical assistance and training an support for people starting small business. Because that's been the real economic engine for our small communities."

The Center advocates refocusing existing government economic development programs to accommodate the smaller businesses that are more likely to be started in rural communities. The center also wants to see the government implement a new program to identify market opportunities and to develop enterprises that would add value to the commodities grown in a community.

Hassebrook: "... we propose taking 500 million a year or less than 2% of what we spent last year on farm payments. The 500 million a year, commit that to initiatives that increase the farm and ranch share of food system profits and invest that in new initiatives to build new co-operatives and develop new markets for higher value products things producing ways that make them worth more to consumers and research things that increase the farm and ranch share of food system's profits."

The center's agenda is getting a listen from lawmakers on both sides of the congressional aisle. The volume of money that has been spent on farm programs is becoming an embarrassment to many farm state lawmakers and the notion of broadening farm spending to grow rural economies is politically popular.

In the Midwest a private sector initiative has been launched to raise venture capital for business development and expansion.

A group known as Hopewell Ventures is raising 150 million dollars in five midwestern states it calls "Flyover America". The five states, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin were selected because they currently enjoy considerable business activity but have a dearth of venture capital for future growth.

Tags: agriculture Congress news policy politics rural