Posted on | May 21, 2013 | No Comments
While I certainly agree with many of Bob Stallman’s sentiments in his recent op-ed, “Let’s keep the food in food aid,” National Farmers Union, along with many hunger relief organizations, takes a more nuanced view of the President’s food aid reform proposal. I particularly agree with Stallman’s concerns about the importance of aid recipients knowing that Americans are the source of their aid, and the need to maintain a strong base of political support for the program. However, NFU’s family farmer and rancher members think there is room for compromise on this issue.
American food aid is a critical piece of the solution to global food insecurity, particularly in times of crisis. American agriculture is responsible for saving millions of lives around the world since the passage of the Food for Peace Act in the 1950s, and farmers couldn’t be prouder of this fact. There is still a significant need for commodity distribution, and there is, and must continue to be, a clear, continuing role for American agriculture in food aid. However, our modern globalized food system makes the case for greater flexibility in our aid programs.
As an organization that has been in existence since 1902, we have a long history of supporting programs that help the less fortunate among us. At the time when food aid was enacted, we had a large oversupply of grain and accompanying low market prices. The government was purchasing or receiving and physically holding significant stocks, something that just doesn’t happen today during a time of very different farm policies and current relatively high market conditions. Our food system has changed drastically in the past 50 years; naturally, our system of international aid must evolve as well. Ultimately, if we truly want to end global food insecurity, we must consider what is going to best serve local farmers and local economies – especially in areas of the world that suffer from hunger.
We don’t want to throw out the current system, particularly in a time of such great need. The strength of our current aid programs is their broad-based political support – from farmers, mariners, and the aid community alike. Changing our system of aid so rapidly that this backbone of support evaporates would be a great mistake. However, as farmers, we advocate for a flexible domestic farm safety net with a host of options to best serve our specific needs and plan for different types of risk. Perhaps it is time for our safety net for vulnerable people to have the same flexibility, to allow our humanitarian response to best fit each specific situation. At a time of such urgent human need and budget constraint, reforms that enable us to reach more hungry people while saving taxpayer dollars, and continue to engage the talent and generosity of American agriculture, are the right choice.
Roger Johnson is President of National Farmers Union www.nfu.org
Posted on | May 20, 2013 | No Comments
The Senate has just begun floor consideration of S. 954, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, and is expected to continue debate throughout the week. Senators will file amendments today and tomorrow, and although amendments could technically be considered as soon as tomorrow, it is likely that no action will be taken until Wednesday.
It is also likely that a package of amendments will be agreed to by leadership in the coming days, thereby limiting the number of amendments that will be considered on the floor. Procedurally, the Senate will first need to vote on cloture, which limits debate to 30 additional hours. Cloture requires a 60-vote threshold. While it’s Senate Agriculture Committee leaders’ preference that the bill moves to final passage this week before the Memorial Day recess, it’s possible that further debate and final passage of the bill may stretch into June.
Watch the Senate debate the 2013 Farm Bill live at www.cspan.org.
Posted on | May 17, 2013 | No Comments
by Daryll E. Ray and Harwood D. Schaffer, Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn.
Read the original post at agpolicy.org.
The 2013 drought across a wide swath of the U.S. corn belt has resulted in high insurance payments, both for farmers who faced a lower yields than they expected at planting and for farmers who had a modest or better crop but received payments because they took out revenue insurance with a harvest-time price option. The resulting high costs to the U.S. government have resulted in a chorus of opponents to crop insurance.
As we listen to those voices, it is important to listen to the nuances in the arguments they make because they are not all the same.
At the one pole, we have those who are opposed to any type of crop insurance simply because they oppose all farm programs—some of them even go so far as to call for the elimination of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But even among this group there are some differences. Some are opposed to farm programs on economic grounds, arguing that the free market is better at allocating resources than government policy. Others in this group simply want to shrink the size of government because they see the government as the problem.
Others oppose crop insurance and crop-specific payments to farmers because they would like to see the money that is going to crop insurance and other areas switched to an area about which they are passionate—usually the environment.
And then there are those who are OK with the current subsidized crop insurance program but want to make sure that there are no payment limitations, no conservation compliance requirements, and no planting or acreage restrictions. Most of the players are agribusiness firms and those allied with those firms. Their goal is to have all-out production all of the time and then backfill farm income with insurance payments, both when yield is low and prices are high and when yields are average to high and prices are in the tank. They want to make sure that farm programs do not interfere with their opportunity to maximize their sales all of the time.
In addition to opposing planting and acreage, most also oppose government embargoes on exports to protect domestic markets when supplies of one or more crops become severely limited. This is called de jure opposition because it involves a matter of law. But by opposing any storage programs they lay the markets open to de facto (concerning facts) embargoes. And that is exactly what happened this crop year with corn. We have had a de facto embargo on exports because the high price has driven most of the purchasers of US corn to other sellers.
In coming years, it will be telling to see if this de facto embargo turns out to drive investments in the agricultures of our international competitors in the corn market as the de jure embargoes did for our soybean competitors.
Because most of this rhetoric is targeted to one or more elements of the farm program, it would be easy for the general public to come to the conclusion that the farm program has no purpose other than to enrich large farmers at the expense of the rest of society.
At its most basic level, there are solid reasons why we have seen farm programs as a necessary part of our national life. In economic-speak, agriculture faces a low price elasticity of demand, a low price elasticity of price, a fixity of resources, and the in ability to finely control production as other industries do.
Translated into English that means that when prices are very “high” most people do not eat significantly less food—though it does affect the poorest of the poor—and when prices are “low” they do not go from three meals a day to four—in the US a large number of us already eat too much.
At the same time, whether prices are high or low farmers plant all of their acreage to something; what farmer is going to rent ground and then tell the landlord that they are not going to grow a crop?
In other industries, excess resources are shifted to another use relatively quickly, but in agriculture there is little alternate use for a combine and if land is converted to a housing development, it cannot later be shifted back into production. The resources have fixed uses. Resources will eventually be shifted out of agricultural production after a number of years of low prices, but very little is shifted out in the short to intermediate run.
If ever there were a time that farmers wish that they could control production, it was last year. Not only could they not finely control it, they couldn’t control it at all. Some were unlucky and saw their crop burn up, while others hit the jackpot with reasonable yields and extremely high prices. For the most part, when it comes to production using modern farming methods what one runs through the combine is the luck of the draw; last year farmers in much of the mid-section of the country drew a bad hand.
So yes, there are good reasons to support a farm program that is designed to compensate for these market failures.
As our regular readers know, we have criticized the current price component of the crop insurance program for providing generous protection when it is not needed—when prices are high—and providing little protection when it is needed—when prices are low for an extended period of years. To the extent that subsidized crop insurance is used to protect farmers against yield disasters, we support its use because in many cases it is more targeted that the traditional ad hoc disaster programs.
Daryll E. Ray holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy, Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee, and is the Director of UT’s Agricultural Policy Analysis Center (APAC). Harwood D. Schaffer is a Research Assistant Professor at APAC. (865) 974-7407; Fax: (865) 974-7298; firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com; http://www.agpolicy.org.
Posted on | May 17, 2013 | No Comments
For many of us, going to the grocery store is another box to check off on our weekly to-do list, but for an increasingly larger portion of consumers, the typical grocery store is unable to provide the desired quality of products they desire. For me, I began to look into available alternatives to my weekly grocery store trip after I was consistently disappointed by the quality of the produce offered. As a consumer, joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program offers assurance that the food I purchase has been produced with responsible production methods, if I do my homework and research the farms in my area that offer a CSA. Of course, not everyone seeking to invest in local agriculture and wanting to consume more local produce should go the CSA route. While offering an opportunity to get to know a local farmer and regularly receive a box of high-quality produce, CSAs involve the purchase of a “share” of a farm’s operation and may come with more risk and partnership than some consumers, or farms, want to deal with.
In owning a share of a particular farm, the consumer and farmer are sharing in both the bounty (in the form of a weekly box of produce and various other products) and the risks that come with farming. This kind of business model is popular among consumers who want to know where their food comes from, but also feel like they are supporting their local farmer. This commitment and personal touch comes from an up-front investment in a farm and often allows CSA purchasers to visit the farm to become more educated on how their food is grown. Some consumers are not ready for such a commitment, particularly during a year where the harvest may not be as desirable, and so might want to consider shopping at a farmers market instead.
CSAs are not just vegetables. Some have options for shareholders to receive eggs, meat, cheese, baked goods, or even cut flowers. Some farmers will combine their CSAs in order to offer a wider variety of products to consumers. For those farmers who choose to operate a CSA, they should keep in mind the benefits, but also the challenges that come with such a model. Because a CSA is often about getting to know more about agricultural production for the consumer, farmers should be willing interact on a personal level with individual consumers, as well as to do the work that comes with signing contracts with each consumer. Of course, the opportunity to market products early and have set buyers who pre-pay is an advantage in regards to cash flow that should not be overlooked.
The CSA model can be tailored to the concerns of unique locations, such as how long the CSA will last, how much and what kinds of products will be delivered, and what happens to unclaimed boxes if a consumer goes out of town or does not show. There can also be arrangements made for supplemental purchases, such as extra produce or items from different producers, like eggs, dairy, fruits, or meat. Knowing how much produce will be in a CSA delivery is vital for consumers to continue their investment –the most common reason for not renewing is feeling guilty about not using all of the vegetables, according to the USDA. If you are a consumer considering a CSA, make sure you have the time to cook, the desire to try potentially new foods, and have a plan if you find yourself with excess food on your hands (a neighbor to share with, perhaps).
The demand for high-quality, local, and ultra-fresh food is increasing so much that many areas have waiting lists for CSAs. Exposing adults and kids alike to new foods, especially that they can feel some sort of ownership of and even see produced during a farm visit, can be a fun, educational opportunity as well as a great way to invest in the local community financially and personally.
- For more information, check out these resources
- SNAP benefits and CSAs
- USDA selected books and reports on CSAs http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/csa/csafarmer.shtml
- USDA-compiled list of organizations and website for CSAs http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/csa/csaorgs.shtml
- Brief flier on different types of CSAs and how to start one http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/rbs/CDP-TN20.PDF
- SNAP benefits and CSAs
Posted on | May 16, 2013 | No Comments
This week saw a flurry of farm bill activity, with both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees marking up their drafts of the 2013 Farm Bill.
On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry met to consider its bill, which included a number of NFU priorities. S. 954, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, was similar to the version passed by the committee last year save for one major change, a commodity title that includes protection from long-term price collapse. This change, which NFU has long supported, was likely included at the request of the new ranking member of the committee, Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. Unfortunately, the reference prices included in the bill were set so low that they would not provide any meaningful assistance; however, their inclusion alone is a positive step and provides a starting point for further negotiation with the House. Additionally, the manager’s amendment to the bill released just before the markup included an amendment proposed by Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley, Iowa, John Thune, S.D., Pat Roberts, Kan., and Mike Johanns, Neb., to set the reference prices for all covered commodities except rice and peanuts at 55 percent of the simple average price, as determined by the Secretary of Agriculture. NFU strongly opposed this amendment, as it both treats some commodities differently than others and erodes the price protection’s effectiveness, and will be working to remove it as the bill moves through the legislative process.
The bill also included $800 million of mandatory funding for renewable energy programs, boosted to $900 million by an amendment offered by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., as well as an NFU-supported provision to require farmers to comply with a conservation plan in order to receive crop insurance premium subsidies. Conservation compliance is currently required in order to receive payments under all other commodity programs, and is a common-sense way to ensure farmers are providing basic environmental protections in exchange for all forms of risk management assistance.
During the markup, several amendments were considered and withdrawn, perhaps to be worked out behind-the-scenes with committee leadership or to be brought up during floor consideration, such as an NFU-supported Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., amendment to remove the “cash in advance” requirement for trade with Cuba, a Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., amendment to restore the mark’s $4 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), an NFU-opposed Sen. Johanns amendment to eliminate Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) requirements, an NFU-supported Sen. Roberts amendment to eliminate duplicative pesticide registration requirements for farmers, and an NFU-supported Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., amendment to raise the payment limitation under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program’s (EQIP) Organic Initiative from $20,000 to $300,000 like all other EQIP grants. The committee also adopted an amendment offered by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., allowing organic producers and handlers to petition the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to form an organic checkoff program.
On Wednesday, the House Committee on Agriculture followed suit and marked up its version of the legislation, H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, in a session that extended into the late hours of the day. Like the Senate version, the House bill includes a commodity title with two forms of risk protection, one program based on revenue and one based on price. However, the House version includes higher reference prices that are fixed, which are preferable to the Senate’s lower, averaged prices. The bill does not include two of NFU’s priorities, conservation compliance or mandatory funding for the energy title.
The markup brought a mix of positive and damaging amendments. The committee rejected, 20-26, an NFU-opposed amendment offered by Reps. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and David Scott, D-Ga., to eliminate the supply management provision from the new margin protection dairy program included in the mark. This provision would have been disastrous for the dairy industry, as it would have allowed unchecked overproduction and resulted in price collapse. Unfortunately, the committee adopted an NFU-opposed amendment by Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., not only preventing the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration from doing any further work on farmer-friendly provisions stemming from the 2008 Farm Bill, but also from enforcing any Packers and Stockyards Act provisions. A Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., amendment to allow USDA to consider establishing an organic checkoff program, passed on a 29-17 vote.
A number of NFU-supported amendments were also offered and withdrawn for further work, including a Rep. Costa amendment restoring the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, a Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., amendment to restore mandatory funding to the National Organic Program, a Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., amendment to allow Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) funds to be used for the installation of flex pumps, and a Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., amendment to provide $800 million of mandatory funding for the energy title, as in the Senate bill. An NFU-opposed amendment by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., to prohibit the slaughter of horses for human consumption, was also withdrawn, as was an NFU-opposed amendment by Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., to repeal COOL.
Next, the Senate moves its bill to the floor, with possible consideration as soon as Monday. House leadership has indicated they intend to bring the bill to the floor in June. The current one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill expires on Sept. 30, 2013.
For more information on the farm bill, visit the following links or www.NFU.org/farmbill:
- Side-by-side comparison of current law, the Senate bill and the House bill
- Comparison of reference prices in the current law, the Senate bill and the House bill
- NFU’s summary of the Senate bill (does not reflect changes made during the committee markup)
- NFU’s summary of the House bill (does not reflect changes made during the committee markup)
- Senate Agriculture Committee’s farm bill page
- House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill page