By Zippy Duvall, President,
American Farm Bureau Federation
It has been said that if it takes five weeks to build a barn, a wise carpenter should spend the first three drawing up plans, gathering material and preparing the site. In Farm Bureau’s mission to advance sound public policy that helps America’s farm and ranch families earn a living from the land, we know essential spadework must be tackled before any nail can be driven and any rafter hoisted into place.
In the vast barnyard of national issues that affects agriculture in one way or another, one structure rises above all others in offering shelter from the storm – the farm bill. As the 2018 farm bill approaches, we have already begun preparations. This barn raising is one of the biggest events coming up on the ag calendar, and it’s important that we do everything in our power to make sure Congress gets it right – with squared-up corners and leveled-up beams.
Change is Constant
No farm bill is ever perfect. The challenge is that in the life cycle of all farm bills, complete with shifting weather challenges, drifting market patterns and unpredictable global economics, defects can come to light after the law is approved. There have been unforeseen commodity sector and regional challenges in the current farm bill, and as we draw up our plan for what we would like to see in the 2018 farm bill, it is clear that Congress needs to address program shortfalls for cotton and dairy producers. We also need to consider ways to overcome discrepancies in how some programs offer vastly different levels of support, sometimes even to neighboring farmers.
Make no mistake, we are going through challenging times in farm country right now and many farm families are dipping into reserves as they face prices at break-even levels or below. The good news is that productivity over the last couple years has topped the charts, but in many cases, that has not been sufficient to offset prices that have taken a historic tumble. The risk-management function of crop insurance and the basic economic safety net offered by farm programs are more important than ever.
Function and Form
Farm bills are written for times like these—the challenging years. Our farm bill is like an insurance policy. Benefits are paid when the situation warrants. In the case of the farm economy in 2016, the barn has caught on fire. According to USDA estimates, net farm income for 2016 is at $54.8 billion, compared to $123.3 billion in 2013. Anyone who criticizes the amount of risk management funds going to farm families at this critical time should remember that’s what the farm bill is designed to do.
To make sure the farm bill continues to work as intended, those of us in agriculture are beginning to design the next one. AFBF has appointed an advisory group of state Farm Bureau farm bill specialists to discuss what’s working in the current farm bill and what isn’t. A group of agricultural economists from farm and commodity groups soon will get together to determine what factors might come into play and what the budget for this construction project might look like.
At county and state Farm Bureau annual meetings across the land, farmers and ranchers are gathering to add their voices to the policy development process we will follow in advocating for the 2018 farm bill. We need this grassroots input.
Using this blueprint, we will encourage Congress to craft the 2018 farm bill within the economic projections and budget parameters. We will focus on securing the best possible shelter from the storm. To do that, we must have input from inside agriculture. Only then will we be able to best help America’s farm and ranch families manage their many risks, make sure we are investing in research for a brighter tomorrow, provide programs aimed at conserving our most important resource—America’s farmland—and help feed Americans who need a helping hand to benefit from the bounty we produce from the land.
While the 2018 farm bill is still on the horizon, it really is time to sound the bell for preparation for this great American barn raising.
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