Critics say U.S. farm policy, specifically the 1996 law known as Freedom To Farm, has not served farmers well. At its heart, the Freedom to Farm law was intended to wean farmers from government programs and to allow them to grow what the market demanded.
Instead, it encouraged producers to grow more of what already was in abundant supply. And without the safety nets of the mid 80s in place to cover for times of low prices, the government felt compelled to spend staggering amounts of money to try and right the ship.
"The idea of Freedom to Farm," says Economist Neil Harl, "was to squeeze, to squeeze producers until at the periphery they switched to something else.
"But in the meantime, the Congress wouldn't let it work because it caused economic pain and we learned graphically that Congress doesn't like to have economic pain visited upon its constituents."
The result is a disquieting reliance on the government for solvency. By some estimates, half of U.S. farm income is now supplied by federal aid, up from 13 percent just three years ago. As farmers become increasingly reliant on the government for their livelihood, they've lost much of their market power.
"And that means Congress," Harl says, "really has to come to grips with the question, 'Do we want to have a sector of independent entrepreneurs in agriculture or are we perfectly willing to accept a sector of serfs?' because that's literally what we'd end up with if you push this a few years."