September 30, 2013

Statement about the US Farm Bill Expiration

Statement about the US Farm Bill Expiration

David M. Winkles, Jr., President
South Carolina Farm Bureau Federation
Monday, September 30, 2013

To say that I am disappointed that Congress did not pass a new farm bill before the extended 2008 law expires tonight at midnight would be an understatement. There is some discussion about another short-term extension of the 2008 bill, but this will not address agriculture’s long-range challenges. Agribusiness is South Carolina’s number one industry contributing $34 billion to the economy every year and creating 200,000 jobs in our state. The failure to pass a farm bill could put this sector of our economy in jeopardy.

If lawmakers cannot find a way to pass a new law (or at least allow us to limp along with another extension of the 2008 bill) by law, we will see the 1936 and 1949 farm bills fill the void. That means farmers and consumers will be in trouble because a number of programs from conservation to research will go away. Additionally, some commodity prices would soar because they would be tied to farm productivity of the 30’s and 40’s. Milk, for example could double or triple in price at the grocery store. The sad part is, farmers are likely to get the blame from consumers who are unaware of the politics of food prices.

The 2009 stimulus bill guarantees funding for farm bill provisions like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and child nutrition programs including School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and Adult Care Feeding, Summer Food Service, and Special Milk will continue through a government shutdown and without a new farm bill. While that is a good thing, and these constituencies need to be protected, farmers will be left with inadequate supports drawn up nearly a century ago.

The farm bill provides stability to a very unstable industry impacted by dynamic and often volatile weather conditions, often erratic world commodity prices, and international trade scenarios that cause spikes and valleys in world food markets. Almost all nations help their farmers in one way or another. The US does this through the farm bill. What’s more, the farm bill secures our domestic food supply and consumers reap the benefits of quality, affordable food. We know what it feels like to be dependent on foreign oil. The farm bill ensures we can depend on America to feed America.

A negative issue that often comes up in farm bill debates is reported fraud, waste, and abuse of farm payments to people who don’t deserve or qualify for them. Farmers who don’t follow the rules should be penalized to the fullest extent of the law. Fortunately, most farm payments do go to qualified family farmers who need the safety net to overcome risks unique to agriculture. Individuals and families own 97 percent of US farms and they produce 85 percent of all US-grown food and fiber. It’s unfortunate that there are people who try to cheat the system. But when they are caught, they are forced to repay fraudulent farm payments and they are barred from the program.

Finally, the farm bill enables farmers to take better care of the environment. Farmers enroll millions of acres of their land in a conservation program that protects erodible land and wildlife habitat. The farm bill also provides support to preserve and restore wetlands.

We are encouraging our members to contact our Congressional delegation and ask them to pass a farm bill now.

David M. Winkles, Jr. is the president of the South Carolina Farm Bureau Federation, a nonprofit advocacy organization organized to keep family farmers in business, food produced locally, and rural lifestyles thriving. The organization has more than 110,000 member families statewide. Winkles is also a member of the American Farm Bureau Board of Directors.

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