DENVER—The U.S. Senate should make passage of a farm bill a high priority when it resumes in January, says the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU), a general farm organization representing family farmers and ranchers in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.
“Agricultural producers face enough uncertainty in weather, market price and other factors. The last thing they need is uncertainty over farm policy,” said John Stencel, RMFU president. “New farm legislation should help stimulate and stabilize the U.S. rural economy which has been in an economic downturn for the past five years.”
In December 2001, Farmers Union was one of more than 30 national and state farm organizations to formally request that Senate leaders pass a farm bill. “The need is more urgent everyday that we are without a new farm bill,” Stencel said. “Rocky Mountain Farmers Union wishes to put on notice our senators and representatives that we expect action on farm bill legislation. Farmers need to make decisions for the coming planting season.”
RMFU not only wants a farm bill passed, it wants policies that will be more beneficial to family producers than the current farm bill. The 1996 so-called “Freedom to Farm” bill was supposed to wean farmers off federal farm programs. Instead, the 1996 farm bill has increased price volatility and created an oversupply of commodities on the market, making farmers more dependent than ever on farm payments.
1996 farm income was nearly $55 billion, with just 13 percent of this income coming from government payments. 1999 net farm income dropped to $43 billion with 48 percent from government payments.
RMFU supports raising commodity loan rates, re-establishing a farmer-owned grain reserve, and capping subsidy payments to the level produced by a family operation. RMFU also supports a number of measures designed to increase competition in agricultural markets, including country-of-origin food labeling.
A nationwide survey of producers on their desires for the 2002 farm bill conducted by the Farm Foundation and state land grant universities shows that Farmers Union’s farm policy proposals are in line with the majority of the nation’s farmers and ranchers. For example, 80 percent of respondents want the government to provide a safety net, and a whopping 98 percent said they favor a country-of-origin label on food products.
“Farmers want to get their income from the market, not from government subsidies. Loan rate levels and market prices trend together, so it only makes sense to raise loan rates and give farmers an opportunity to get more of their income from the market with deficiency payments serving as a safety net,” Stencel said. “In addition, capping payment levels to the amount produced on a family operation is more palatable to the American public and gentler on the federal budget.”