Now that farm bill negotiations appear to be over, “maybe we should start over,” offers Daryll E. Ray, director of the University of Tennessee's Agricultural Policy Analysis Center.
Calling the commodity portion of the farm bill a “Super Freedom-to-Farm,” Ray in his weekly column April 26 offers a “Late Night With David Letterman”-type “Top Ten Reasons” to start over and reconsider farm legislation.
No. 10: In addition to no authority to create buffer stocks, the Secretary of Agriculture also has no levers to affect the level of output. The Secretary needs these authorities if farmers are to once again receive their net income from the marketplace rather than from the mailbox. Starting over would not be the worst thing in the world. The reality is most farmers have already made their planting decisions, so there is no hurry on that account. With a little extra time and the pressures of a deficit budget, it is possible that Congress might find a more cost-efficient way to provide for a stable farm sector.
No. 9: In addition to providing no price floor, commodity prices can soar to unexplored heights. With no real buffer stocks and super-low U.S. yields for a year or two, crop price levels could go so high and feed availability could drop so low that major domestic livestock-feed demands and export customers would scurry to find long-term, non-U.S. suppliers of corn and soybean meal.
No. 8: While belief in market self-correction via supply and demand response to depressed prices may have been a reason to embrace the 1996 legislation, why would we want to take that dog out to hunt again this time around?
No. 7: There is also no recognition that market response on the supply side is of no help in the search for a cure for low prices. …Discussions about whether loan rates should be changed a few cents are akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
No. 6: There is no recognition that, when crop prices capsize, market demand does not provide the rigging to raise them back again.
No. 5: Export worship continues to underpin the current policy direction.
No. 4: The cost of the new farm bill is almost assuredly seriously underestimated.
No. 3: Current commodity policy is not a farm policy. It is an agribusiness policy.
No. 2: Since farm policy is now a money game, anybody and everybody producing a food product wants to play, even the products for which the market or existing price and income stabilization methods perform satisfactorily over time.
And the No. 1 reason to start over on the farm bill: By shaping farm policy to cause large, direct payments, farmers are being portrayed by editorial writers and conservative think tanks as politically-powerful, money-grubbing corporate welfare.
Basically the new farm bill is a “Super Freedom-to-Farm, the 1996 legislation wrapped with a method to automatically pay ‘emergency payments,’” Ray writes. “Even though farmers despise the price and market income results of the 1996 legislation, the collective legislative response seems to be: ‘Let's do it again.’
“Do we really think the results will be any different the second time around?” Ray asks.
The complete text of Ray's weekly analysis column can be found on the Web at http://agpolicy.org/weekcol/092.html