Farm Bill 2012: Money, Money, Money

[Originally posted at By 2015: America on May 22, 2012]

The absolute deadline for passage of the 2012 Farm Bill is September 30, 2012. Versions of the Bill are working their way through Committees in both the House of Representatives and Senate with a target date of August 5, 2012.

Hundreds of Farm Alliances, policy groups and activists are focused on the details of the Bill, which sets the funding limits of how and where tax-payer’s monies provide American farmers a balance against market forces.

Most of the current talk centers around spending cuts. The Natural Resource Report stated on Thursday, May 17, 2012 that testimony “was based on the premise that the House Agriculture Committee will draft farm legislation that reduces spending by $23 billion over the next 10 years, with proportional cuts of $15 billion in commodity program reductions, $4 billion in conservation program reductions and $4 billion in nutrition program reductions.”

The most basic function of the Farm Bill is to ensure America produces enough food to cover domestic consumption. Twenty “commodities” or cash crops dominate: wheat, corn, sorghum, soybeans, oats, cotton, rice, wool, oilseeds, milk, peanuts, mohair, beet, cane beet, sugar, chickpeas, honey, dry peas, barley and lentils. Eight crops receive the most funding from this list because they are under the most acreage of cultivation:

  1. Corn
  2. Soybeans
  3. Wheat
  4. Grain sorghum
  5. Barley
  6. Oat
  7. Cotton
  8. Rice

Bob Stallman, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said, ““The new farm bill must ensure that producers continue to take production signals from the marketplace rather than enticing them to chase federal program benefits.” Stallman continued, “approaches that allow producers to pick and choose between various program options would impose severe challenges and drive production decisions.”

Note that fruits and vegetables are not on that list. Apparently, oranges, apples, lettuce and tomatoes are considered specialty commodities.

The Olympian’s Michael Doyle reports:

“Specialty crop growers also are hoping to hold on to a block grant program, which provides $55 million a year.  In a classic gesture of spreading political good will, every state is guaranteed some funding, but big-time specialty-crop states dominate. Florida received $4.3 million, Washington state received $3.1 million and California took $18 million last year, with projects that ranged from public relations campaigns for leafy greens to improved wine grape-growing practices in the Sierra Nevada foothills.” [emphasis mine]

“The number that you have not heard is the cost of the legislation, which is $995 billion over the course of the next 10 years, for the mandatory elements of the Farm Bill,” writes Stu Ellis of FarmGateblog.

He goes on to document:

“1. $772 billion or 78% is for domestic nutrition assistance programs, primarily the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

2. $223 billion, is divided among various agriculture-related programs.

A. Crop insurance ($90 billion, or 9%),

B. Farm commodity price and income supports ($63 billion or 6%),

C.  Conservation ($65 billion, or 7%).

D. 1% of the baseline is for international trade ($3 billion),

E. Horticulture programs ($1 billion).”

The above numbers baffle the imagination. The anti-hunger community is focused on maintaining funding to SNAP which spent $75 billion in 2011, feeding 46.3 million Americans in Februrary 2012.

According to Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack this is good for the economy, helping to reduce unemployment.  For every dollar citizens spend on food stamps, $1.84 in economic stimulus is created. Thus, the $75 billion investment reaps $138 billion in economic activity.

Reforms on SNAP include closing loopholes like, those articulated by Matthew J. Grassi of CropLife:

“Several segments of the bill are aimed at “cracking down on fraud and abuse while strengthening efforts to get food assistance to those most in need.”

Under the bill, the Department of Agriculture will receive additional funds to prevent trafficking of food assistance benefits. Lottery winners will no longer be eligible to receive food assistance, while college students food assistance eligibility will be limited to those participating in technical and vocational education programs (such as ESL and basic adult literacy programs) at primarily two-year colleges. The bill also bans retail food outlets from participating in Nutrition Assistance Programs if their sales of items like liquor and tobacco are higher than 45% of the store’s total sales.” [emphasis mine]

Grassi continues:

“The legislation reportedly faces considerable opposition in the House, where the Republican majority is pressing for more extensive cuts to food assistance programs. Meanwhile, southern senators say the shift from direct payments to a system based on crop insurance and a new federal risk management program discriminates against Southern crops, particularly rice and peanuts.”

[Kokayi Nosakhere is the Lead Coordinator of the By2015:AMERICA movement. Based in Anchorage, Alaska, the anti-hunger activist endured a 28 day action called The Juneau Hunger Strike to highlight the issue of child hunger during the 27th Alaskan Legislature. He is available to assist other activists around the country in addressing child hunger in their locale. To contact the Lead Coordinator, please call 907-884-4710 or email him at by2015america@gmail.com.]

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