Farm bill an important piece of legislation for everyone

W. Justin SomersYadkin County Farm Bureau President

December 17, 2012

Fiscal cliff? Farm bill? Immigration reform? Death tax? What does all of this mean?

To put it simple this is a short list of really difficult issues that should concern every Yadkin County resident. How does it affect you?

Let’s start with the proposed Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, better known as the 2012 farm bill. This bill passed the Senate but stalled in the U. S. House of Representatives. As December ticks away quickly and the House begins to stare down the looming Christmas recess, the likelihood of a farm bill this year becomes less and less a possibility. Both the House and Senate need to address the issues of the looming fiscal cliff, immigration reform and the death tax. Congress has lots to do and a short time to get it all complete.

The proposed farm bill is estimated to cost nearly $100 billion per year. But, let’s be clear about one thing. Only about 20% of the farm bill actually goes to farms and farmers. Over 80% of farm bill spending goes to the United States Department of Agriculture for funding of nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP is now the Federal Food Stamp Program and the Free and Reduced Lunches and Breakfast at America’s schools. Many politicians have adopted the misconception that cutting payments to agriculture will go a long way towards avoiding the looming fiscal cliff. The fact is the farm bill as a whole is about 3% of the $3.54 trillion annual federal budget making direct payments to agriculture considerably less than 1% of the annual federal budget.

How can less than 1% of the budget lead the way in averting the fiscal cliff? It can’t. The fact is that farmers, who represent less than 1% of the American population, may be an easy target for politicians, but disproportionate cuts to agriculture spending will not solve our budget crisis. Could agriculture spending be such a topic of discussion, because it is politically expedient?

So if farmers are less than 1% of the population, why shouldn’t agriculture spending be cut entirely? Farmers are “price takers.” Meaning they produce a product and they sell it at the price they can get. They have no control over markets, weather or other conditions that could have a positive or a negative impact on the product they produce. Agricultural spending provides an important safety net that allows farmers to stay in business during disastrous weather or market circumstances.

Farmers staying on the land and farming is good for everyone. 2.2 million Farms in the United States are responsible for feeding 312 million people here, plus millions of others around the globe. Today, one farmer feeds about 155 people. In 1960 one farmer fed about 25 people.

Agriculture is the largest industry in Yadkin County and in North Carolina, contributing $103 million to the Yadkin County economy and over $73 billion to the NC economy. A healthy agricultural economy means jobs and stability.

Payments that farmers receive in the form of crop insurance and other agricultural programs are invested back into the local economy. In 2008 Yadkin County received $6.9 million in farm program payments. Farmers used this money to cover loss, prepare for the next planting season, purchase new equipment from local dealers, hire additional farm hands and even go to the local café and have a cup of coffee.

The bottom line is the 2012 farm bill is an important piece of legislation for everyone, and it deserves reasonable debate. A practical farm bill is a must; it must address the concerns of the farmer while at the same time taking into account the current financial situation facing our nation. Disproportionate reductions to the agriculture section of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, without addressing the nutritional programs and entitlements of the bill are simply unacceptable. You need to be involved in the discussion. Contact your US House Representative or US Senator and let them know that you support farmers and we must protect the most abundant and safest food supply in the world.