By Kevin Paap, Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation President
It has been a long, long road for the Agricultural Act of 2014, or what we call the “farm bill.” Farm Bureau is now focused on the rule making and implementation process. This bill provides a safety net for both consumers and farmers for the next five years. It provides the much needed bipartisan savings of $23 billion over 10 years, and bipartisan reform that repeals or consolidates nearly 100 programs.
Some headlines have read “farm subsidies continue while nutrition is cut.” Let’s take a closer look.
Because of the elimination of direct payments, risk management tools like crop insurance were strengthened under the new law. This public/private partnership ensures that we as farmers and ranchers invest in our own risk management for things out of our control like weather problems and market failures. Remember with crop insurance, we get a bill, not a check. We don’t collect unless a loss has occurred and has been verified. Conservation compliance is now tied to participation for highly erodible soils and wetlands, and Minnesota farmers in the prairie-pothole region will also need to comply with a sodbuster provision for crop insurance purposes.
It is a fact that dairy policy was completely overhauled in order to repeal a 70 year old outdated and ineffective program. Dairy farmers may now participate in a voluntary margin protection program that will provide support during catastrophic conditions as well as prolonged periods of low margins. It is also a fact that the livestock industry has battled severe weather conditions for the past two years with no programs available to provide any form of relief. This bill not only reauthorizes livestock disaster assistance on a permanent basis, but also retroactively applies it back to 2012 and 2013.
It is a fact that 23 duplicative and overlapping conservation programs will be consolidated into 13 programs to better protect our water quality, reduce soil erosion, enhance soil quality and provide habitat for our wildlife. It is also a fact that beginning farmers will see a significant improvement in access to credit through programing and loan programs and specialty crops, including organic, are also addressed in a more impactful manner. This bill also includes research, forestry, trade, energy and rural development.
This farm bill is about food, food from farmers to consumers. This bill also provides a safety net for the consumers who need food for their families. Let’s understand the facts around the nutrition cuts. Some states, 17 to be exact and not Minnesota, boost individual food stamp benefits by giving people small amounts ($1.00) of federal heating assistance in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) which automatically enrolls individuals (850,000) in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), they call it “heat & eat.” This bill increases the energy assistance to $20.00 to qualify for SNAP benefits which will save $8 billion dollars and reflects the cut of 1 percent to the nutrition program.
So when you read “farm subsidies continue while nutrition is cut,” remember the 10 year total spending for the “farm” portion is $44.4 billion for the commodity program (or 4.6 percent of total cost) was cut by 31 percent or $14 billion and the $89.8 billion crop insurance program (or 9.4 percent of total cost) was strengthened by $6 billion.
In other words, the commodity title and crop insurance are about 15 percent of the total cost of the farm bill, but they contributed over one half of the total savings. And the $756 billion nutrition program (79.1 percent of total cost) was only cut by 1 percent or $8 billion dollars.