WORLD FARMING: The US Farm Bill and what it might mean

UK farmers are gearing themselves up for a “healthcheck” of the CAP in 2008 but on the other side of the Atlantic US farmers are facing a new US Farm Bill.

Farmers Weekly asked Kansasfarmer, a regular contributor to the FWiSpace discussion forums, for his thoughts on what it might mean.

“In the USA, farmers in all 50 states are watching Congress begin the process of drafting the 2007 Farm Bill.  While the House of Representatives has passed a version that earmarks only 11% of the funds toward support payments to farmers, down from 27% in the current 2002 bill, it seems certain that the Senate version will probably be different.  It also seems likely that the current bill may be extended until the 2008 election is over. 
What the House version tells us is that for the first time since farm supports were introduced during the Great Depression of the 1930s, non-farm groups are going to have more of a say in farm policy than farmers. 

Everyone from apple growers to the Sierra Club wants a say in how this bill is crafted, and a substantial share of the money for their particular interests.  It surprises many non farmers to learn that the “farm” bill also funds school lunches and food stamps, wildlife habitat, the forestry service (which not only handles forests but does things like provide surplus vehicles to volunteer fire departments) and a variety of rural development projects. The farmer gets the blame, someone else gets the money.   
Farm policy shifted with the 1996 bill from trying to regulate production to a so-called “safety net” to protect producers from low prices.  Unlike the UK, US farm programs have never offered much to meat producers, they have been dedicated to dairy and the traditional mid-western grain crops for the most part. 

Although production control is not an issue today, our payments are still based on historical yields, so a corn farmer in Iowa will get a higher direct payment than I will in southeast Kansas, where our yields have traditionally been lower.  On my mixed farm where 70% of my income comes from livestock, in 2006 support payments amounted to about 7% of my gross income, about $10 per arable acre.  One would assume that this will be cut in half under the new bill, if it is at all like the House version.  The Senate may change this in the farmers’ favour somewhat, as every Senator represents some farmers, while some US Representatives have none in their constituency. 

For this Kansas farmer, it seems certain that my income will be less, government regulations greater, and my political clout much diminished. The only thing yet to be determined is the level.”

Kansasfarmer farms 3500 acres in conjuction with his father. Of that 790 acres are arable and the balance used to graze 225 suckler cows. He also has a small sow herd. His main crops soybeans, corn, milo (grain sorghum), alfalfa and wheat.

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