How Much Reform Does the Farm Bill Really Contain?
This week, the full Senate is expected to take up the farm bill. The farm bill spends one trillion dollars over ten years and sets food and agriculture policy for our nation. The bill’s title is the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, but how much reform does it really contain?
The good news is that there is reform for commodity payments, which used to be the biggest agriculture subsidy in the farm bill. These payments go to those growing row crops such as cotton, rice, soybeans, corn, and wheat. The bill contains fair commodity payment limits. Only real farmers can receive these payments, they have a per farm limit, and recipients have to agree to basic conservation standards to qualify.
The bad news is that there aren’t similar limits on subsidized crop insurance, which has overtaken commodity payments as the most expensive farm bill subsidy. In 2011, US taxpayers subsidized farmers’ insurance premiums and private insurers’ costs to a tune of $8.9 billion, and will likely spend $9.5 billion in the years ahead. In the Senate farm bill, as it is now framed, crop insurance is unlimited, uncapped, untargeted, and unenvironmental. It subsidizes the destruction of family farming, locks out beginning farmers, and does not even require recipients to practice basic conservation of natural resources. All this at a time when Congress is searching for ways to trim government spending.
There’s more good news, though. Several Senators want to amend the farm bill to ensure real reform. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) would like to see meaningful limits added to crop insurance so that the nation’s wealthiest farmers won’t receive unlimited subsidies at the expense of taxpayers. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) would like to restore basic conservation provisions to crop insurance, so that this subsidy doesn’t provide incentives for needlessly damaging environmentally sensitive lands.
Fairness is at the heart of these amendments. Some Senators would like to push the farm bill through quickly without consideration of these amendments. They deserve full and fair debate on the Senate floor and should not be subject to filibuster.
Susan Prolman, Executive Director and The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and Ferd Hoefner, Policy Director at The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.