Why a farm bill is important for you

Why a farm bill is important for you

For some weeks now a public discussion of national farm bill proposals has raised many questions. Debate and confusion often clouded the basic issues at stake.

Food and fiber production in our country has been guided by a farm bill for many decades. Traditionally framed by the Congress at five year intervals, the bill creates an overall policy that benefits both farm producers and consumers.

Its provisions support citizens in need. Eighty percent of the budget allocated under the measure is devoted to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other direct food assistance. Nearly 47 million citizens receive this aid. A preliminary budget formulated for a draft farm bill the Congress is now considering includes a budget of $743.7 billion over 10 years.

Our national farm policy also supports our agricultural infrastructure. Under the auspices of successive farm bills, consumers in the U.S. have enjoyed the stability of a reliable, safe and abundant food supply. 

This policy has been adopted to balance the risks of agricultural production with the food needs of our people.

Since the 1970s the Congress has acted to transition from guaranteed payments for farm producers toward an insurance program. Under an insurance coverage, the producer must suffer a significant loss before any payment is received.

There is a public expense for farm insurance coverage. Taxpayers help underwrite the cost of crop insurance premiums. Much of the discussion in recent weeks has involved the use of tax dollars for this purpose and its benefits.

But I think many people need to consider the cost to all of us if the farm bill did not have an insurance portfolio.

Such risk management helps to keep the retail price of food far below that paid by residents in most foreign nations. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average household in this country spends less than 15% of its income for food each year.

Farmers must confront powerful challenges as they perform their work. Most national governments around the world subsidize their own domestic farm operations, creating price levels that are below the cost of production. Many governments also impose non-tariff barriers that block sales of U.S. farm exports within their respective territories.

Nature can be just as damaging. Without some protection against the vagaries of weather, the damage inflicted by plant and animal pests and diseases, many of our farm owners would be driven out of business. They would lose their livelihoods and we would lose a portion of our basic national security – our domestic food supply.

We would also face a loss of excellent natural resource management. Our farmers and our ranchers are the first stewards of land and water, wildlife habitat and greenspace. Their operations are the foundations of the quality of life for all citizens.

For this reason, our national farm policy has included support for agriculturists to adopt superior natural resource management systems as they become available. The techniques utilized by contemporary farmers and ranchers represent vast improvements upon the ones available to previous generations.

I urge all Floridians to consider the risk to our society if we discard a policy that has provided stable food production and reasonable consumer food prices since the 1940s. Congress may decide to pursue a new approach in the future. But if we abruptly dismiss our support for domestic agriculture in a flurry of extreme arguments and misunderstanding, we may all pay an unknown, painful price.