Few in agriculture are willing to say anything negative about the new farm law. How could they? The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 insures an income level for farmers that will keep most in business the next six years, provided they can make adequate yields.
Most farmers are extremely grateful that Congress saw through all the media and environmental extremist flak and realized how important farmers are to America.
Nonetheless, many farmers admit privately that they are concerned that the new law does not adequately address the root of agriculture's problem for the last several years — low prices and low farm income.
Basically, there is not a mechanism in the law to address the oversupply of commodities currently existing here and around the world. The fear is that for the next six years farmers will continue to do what they do best — produce as much of a crop as they can at the lowest cost — which will do little to whittle supply or raise prices.
It makes price movement almost totally dependent on weather-related and pest-related crop disasters happening somewhere.
Looking closer however, farmers may have won a significant battle for the hearts and minds of Congress, not an easy task. For example, Congress apparently recognized the awesome responsibility that farmers have in providing America with food and fiber. In addition, farmers are the economic backbone of most rural societies.
Surely a few members of Congress were also reminded of the knowledge and expertise that U.S. farmers have accumulated from years of working the land. American farmers produce crops safely and efficiently. Few other countries — of the many looking to export their products here — can stake such a claim.
And it must have occurred to them as well that the loss of independent farmers — big and small — would have increased U.S. dependence on foreign production or replaced the rural agricultural community with a few corporate ones that could and certainly would control supply for the purpose of affecting prices.
In essence, the new farm law is about what farmers do for America. Unfortunately, when all the dust had settled from passage of the bill, all the consumer was hearing was what America was doing for farmers. The latter is at the core of farmer trepidation about the law.
There are two additional messages to be gleaned from this new legislation.
We now have six years to come up with a farm policy that will address chronic low prices and low income.
However, if our foreign competitors continue to subsidize their domestic producers, implement trade barriers whenever they feel like it, and produce goods that are unsafe or produced with crop protection products that are outlawed in the United States, we must continue to protect the economic viability of our farmers, who operate under much stricter guidelines.
Just hope we can get our message across. The United States has to insure all its citizens a safe and bountiful food and fiber supply and protect the integrity of its rural communities. This obligation is bigger than farmers.
e-mail: [email protected].