Sunday, February 03, 2008

We've reached the name-calling stage...

Proponents of the status quo in farm policy are now descending to ridicule:
Even the normally sane ones are insane on this issue. House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) has been the best leader, thus far, in trying to get a farm bill that President George Bush can sign into law. But an obviously frustrated Peterson recently told me and others that if the Bush administration is silly enough to keep insisting on some of their must-have farm bill items, then he can be just as silly and let the current extension of the 2002 Farm Bill provisions expire March 15 and if that occurs, then without a need for any new legislation, farm policy reverts to "permanent" legislation embodied in 1949 and 1938 laws that are about as relevant to farm policy today as Hugo Chavez is to common sense. [More]
Yeah - this language is helpful. If administration efforts to enforce fiscal responsibility on legislation the author (our own Jim Weisemeyer) has himself spoken of as bizarrely conceived and funded by budgetary trickery is silly, color me silly. (But then you probably already had)

The silly thing to me is the idea of a "permanent" farm law that serves as a threat to maintain payouts to a relative handful of farmers. What - this bill can't be repealed? It's scribbled on the back of the Constitution? Let me suggest another silly idea. Maybe it's time to get rid of the permanent law. What Congress hath done, Congress can undo. That is in the Constitution.

Besides, despite legislators' best efforts industrial agriculture is growing past farm policy to operate in the real world of real economics, assuming the risks and reaping the rewards. A recent study indicates current farm policy needs to go in a whole 'nother direction to mean anything to the folks who will dominate our industry.
Past and current farm programs are focused on income transfer based on planting records, price supports, and payment limitations. But economists Boehlje and Gray say the structure of US agriculture continues to move toward industrialization, and many operations have already moved beyond farm programs, except to the dairy operation that is only taking advantage of a distortion in the marketplace created by the milk program. But what would the management of these farms really need in the way of federal farm policy to enhance their operations? Boehlje and Gray suggest:
1) Programs for transition assistance to assist farmers in finding other opportunities, should international competition or other dynamics create a need to buffer farmers from market forces.
2) Develop an institutional structure around a vertical market or supply chain that provides open access to information, prevent anti-trust issues, and help manage risk and rewards in an effort to enhance economic growth.
3) Revisit the rules about intellectual property rights to ensure that current patent and copyright laws are capable of managing the needs of the marketplace in the wake of global competition.
4) Support funding for public sector research and development to ensure that private funding of technology development does not lock it away from the marketplace.
5) Federal support for health care programs, work place safety, and improved immigration laws are needed to ensure a skilled and healthy workforce.
6) Regulations that promote food safety through traceability programs, regulation of antibiotics and additives, and market access to other nations where those issues are of concern.
7) Ensure there are entry-level management positions for young farmers in a career path to accelerate them to be an agricultural leader of tomorrow. [More of a great summary of this report]
As this trend accelerates, farm policy debates become less important to more people. If your occupation is creating, peddling, or talking about farm policy, I would assume this is a troubling development. Trivializing opposing viewpoints could signal a concern about the future of such careers.

As the outlook darkens for the US economy, it may be that public officials like the President who are focusing on spending restraint and entitlement reform won't be the ones who look silly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Aggies in Congress will never allow us to give up the permanent law provisions of parity because they believe it gives them leverage to get their way (like they are trying today). However, I wonder how Chairman Peterson's threat to revert back to permanent law plays with the sugar beet growers since that would mean the end of the infamous sugar program. Also, where would we be without food stamps?