With snow from a mid-January dusting of crop fields lingering on the ground and the inauguration of a new president still fresh on our minds, it's no surprise what people are thinking. “Wow, it didn't take President Obama long to cure global warming did it?”
Just kidding. Everyone knows that the man hasn't achieved the power to change global weather dynamics, unless of course, he's discovered a hidden, magical thermostat somewhere in the White House.
What many in agriculture are wondering though is how the president will manage agricultural policy. I'm concerned, as are many of you, as to whether President Obama will recognize the importance of preserving America's wealth-producing base, i.e., industries, including agriculture, that actually create the cash that runs most businesses as well as the U.S. government, or if he'll subscribe to the theory that the WTO and environmental groups should decide who produces the world's food, fiber and fuel.
I also hope that President Obama will be straight up with us, a personality trait which I'm sad to say, our last president did not carry to the end of his term.
I'm talking about a new USDA rule that came down in the last days of the Bush administration stipulating that “land owned by federal agencies will have base acres terminated effective for the 2009 crop year unless that land is subject to a lease agreement which was executed before Dec. 23, 2008 and is in effect beyond the 2009 crop year.”
USDA took advantage of a rule written way back in the 1996 farm bill (as far as I can tell) and carried over in every farm bill since which states, “The owner of a farm may reduce, at any time, the base acres for any covered commodity for the farm.” The section also states that the reduction “shall be permanent and made in a manner prescribed by the Secretary.”
USDA inexplicably and unexpectedly applied the rule to itself, and in December it became a permanent rule in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. It applies to land owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, FSA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, etc., and essentially eliminates direct and counter-cyclical payments on the land.
Two things are very wrong here. First, the government is pulling the rug from under farmers who in many cases had farmed the land in question for generations, built the bases on the land themselves, and risked their livelihoods in the process.
Second, I'm disappointed that the decision came about in secret, not a word leaked out to farmers, legislators or farm organizations. Many farmers heard about it first from their local county FSA offices.
Shortly after taking office, President Obama issued a memorandum on transparency and open government instructing all members of his administration “to operate under principles of openness, transparency and of engaging citizens with their government.”
One of his first acts should be to repeal this rule, which was enacted under a shroud of secrecy. American farmers deserve no less.