Strictly cap payments to large farms and reinvest the savings in programs that support proven local entrepreneurial initiatives
by Chuck Hassebrook, Center for Rural Affairs, firstname.lastname@example.org
Extending the 2002 farm bill beyond its 2007 expiration would be a mistake. It is destroying family farming and sapping the life blood out of rural America.
Nonetheless, there is a growing drum beat to extend the farm bill. The argument in its favor is based on protecting every dollar of farm payment. Every dollar lost to farm programs is a loss to farmers, so the argument goes, and rewriting the farm bill at a time of mounting deficits will likely lead to lost dollars.
That argument is seriously flawed. Family farming is not strengthened by more dollars distributed by the rule of “the bigger you farm, the more money you get from the government.” To the contrary, that approach is steadily and deliberately dismantling family farming.
We see it all around us. Profit margins for small and mid-sized farms are squeezed as mega farms use mega payments to bid land away from their neighbors and drive land prices and cash rents higher. Every year more family farmers walk away from agriculture while they still have their assets intact.
In addition, the 2002 farm bill reneged on its promise to reward conservation-minded farmers with Conservation Security Program payments – except in a scattered fraction of the nation’s watersheds. The 2002 farm bill is not working to protect the land or family farming.
Nor is it working for rural communities. The federal government currently has no concerted strategy to support the local entrepreneurial initiatives that hold promise for small communities. It’s time for change.
As we have frequently stated, there is a better approach: Strictly cap payments to large farms and reinvest the savings in programs that support proven local entrepreneurial initiatives to revitalize rural America – micro enterprise development, leadership development, youth engagement, value added agriculture initiatives, and beginning farmer programs.
Farmers and rural people are the key to gaining those reforms. During formulation of the 2002 farm bill, pressure for reform collapsed in the congressional conference committee. Key leaders on both sides of the aisle concluded that the most rural votes would go to the political party and elected officials who secured the most money, most quickly for farm programs.
The result was a farm bill which provides money but no solutions, short-term survival but little hope for the future.
We can do better, and it’s up to each of us to help make it happen. We must insist that our representatives say no to any farm bill – current or future – that destroys family farming and fails to invest in the future of rural America, that offers money with no principle and no future.
It is time for the current farm bill to be replaced.
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Center for Rural Affairs
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