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Proposals For Next Farm Bill Abound

posted on November 10, 2000


Whoever next occupies the White House will do so without voter mandate. Additionally, the electorate has chosen to essentially divide Congress almost evenly. A change in the D.C. political climate may be occurring, at least until the Congressional elections of 2002.

In the interim, a less partisan approach to public policy seems likely. A quest for consensus will now guide legislation. That, of course, means not much will actually be done.

However, as Market to Market has reported, a broad discontent with the so-called Freedom To Farm law is forging a consensus to overhaul federal farm policy.

Proposals For Next Farm Bill Abound 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 agri-economy

. Market transition payments mandated under the '96 farm bill accounted for just 38.5 percent of the more than $28 billion dollars doled out to farmers in fiscal 2000. in fact, federal payments to farmers were four times less prior to freedom to farm. According to USDA, nearly half of all farm income now comes from taxpayers, compared to 13 percent just three years ago.

Slug: voting booth stuff

Regardless of the final makeup of congress, there's sentiment for change. indeed, much of the groundwork for rewriting the farm bill already has been laid.

Of the farm policy trial balloons floating about the countryside, many are anchored to land conservation:

--Flexible fallow allows farmers to voluntarily conserve acreage in exchange for higher loan rates on their remaining land. in years of low commodity prices, farmers can conserve more acres in return for greater price and income support.

--The conservation security act combines a three-tiered system of payments tied to specific conservation practices with advance payments to provide income stability. the program allows farmers to enter five or 10-year contracts with the government.

--And, the GOP-backed Rural America prosperity act aims at increasing farmers' competitiveness by opening foreign markets, providing tax and regulatory relief, and expanding risk management options.

Counter-cyclical measures also have been widely discussed and would, essentially, provide higher levels of government assistance during times of low prices ... and lower levels when prices rise.

Others outside of the legislative arena have called for a farmer-owned storage program, long-term land idling, and continuation of loan deficiency and marketing loan programs.


Tags: agriculture Congress Farm Bill news policy politics