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Don’t undermine independent agricultural producer

By John Stencel

A firestorm of protest has erupted since U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, announced plans to cut $19 billion or about 25 percent of the total budget of federal agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and rural development programs. Farmers Union was among the lead organizations that earlier this month sent a letter to budget conferees opposing any cuts that would affect these programs. A total of 72 organizations signed on to the letter.

While I understand the need for budget adjustments due to a sluggish economy and added military spending, is this really the right time to continue cutting personal income tax rates? Few family farm and ranch families will benefit much, if at all, from these tax cuts. As for the argument that returning more tax dollars to individuals will stimulate the economy, that is a debate for the economists. However, I can tell you that I do not know many producers who believe they will be better off if the tax cut is implemented.

In this time of heightened concern over personal security at home and abroad, the last thing lawmakers should consider jeopardizing is the financial security of the family farmers and ranchers who produce enough to feed all Americans and are still able to export 30-40 percent of their production. Food production is this country is in itself a security issue. Independent producers would dearly love to live on the income provided by the marketplace. However, because just a handful of multi-national corporations control the vast majority of the processing, marketing and retailing of U.S. food products, the United States does not have a true free enterprise system in the food sector. Until the grip these monopolies hold on independent producers is loosened, government payments will have to be made to keep them afloat.

As often is the case, there has been a silver lining in this budgetary reduction cloud. It has resurrected the concept of capping program payments and eliminating loopholes that enable large “farmers” to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in program payments. Farmers Union strongly supports applying caps at the level of an average family-sized operation, enabling all producers to receive benefits to this level but not beyond. This would discourage over-production, free up more money, and go a long way toward eliminating the stigma of farmers getting rich off of government payments.

Much discussion has already occurred and likely will continue regarding the importance of enabling the Iraqi people and providing them with the tools necessary to govern and provide for themselves. While we are intent on this goal, let’s take care not to undermine the ability of American farmers and ranchers to provide a varied, wholesome and constant food supply for U.S. consumers!