The trick to talking about the farm bill is trying to find something new to say about a process that has been dragging on for about two and a half years, says Texas A&M Extension Economist Steven Klose.

“Whenever we talk about farm policy, it’s the same old song,” said Klose at this week’s Southern Region Agricultural Outlook Conference in Atlanta.

Due to market conditions, current farm policy hasn’t played a large role recently, he says. “We haven’t talked about loan rates for a while now, and counter-cyclical payments are pretty much out of the picture right now.

“They’re all so down below the market that they don’t matter much anymore. Crop insurance is obviously a key. Our typical safety net stuff — the net’s so far down that if you fall from the trapeze, even the net is going to hurt.”

There’s a big perception that because of the recent run-up in commodity prices, we no longer need that safety net,” says Klose.

“There has been a run-up in some commodity prices, but not in all of them. There’s a perception out there that maybe we just don’t need a safety net, and that’s driving a lot of what’s going on and the delay in getting a bill finalized.”

 

You can check current crop commodity prices now.

 

A big problem, he continues, is that there’s really no room anymore in politics for someone in the middle.

“It used to be that being a moderate and being in the middle was a good thing. Now, it’s almost a dirty word to be called a moderate by either side. So the extremes of both parties are out on the edges, and neither wants the other to have a win, whatever a win may look like,” he says.

There also have been some differences among the commodity groups, fighting for what little money is available, he adds.

“But since when have they ever gotten along? In times of tight budgets, it just puts a magnifying glass on what’s going on, with the South against the Midwest and the white crops against the grain crop. When there’s not much many to be had, everyone will go for their share of the pot. That has delayed the process a bit, and it has been a factor.

Groups outside of agriculture like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and others have other agendas and have influenced the process and may have contributed to the perception that farmers no longer need a safety net, says Klose.

In addition, some members of Congress are working on a farm bill for the first time, and they’re doing it in an environment that doesn’t make it easy.”

Looking at mandatory spending for the 2008 farm bill, Klose says there are 15 titles, but most of the money is spent in four places: commodity programs, conservation, trade and nutrition, with nutrition by far being the largest part of the spending.

“For all of the excitement associated with the commodity title, it is 0.15 percent of the U.S. budget,” says Klose.