By John Stencel
A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report documents what has been a trend over the past generation or more. According to the report, released Feb. 21, only 12 percent of households operating farms or ranches say the farm/ranch income was their largest source of income in 2000. The remaining 88 percent said off-farm income was the major source of their household income.
One farmer put it this way: “In the 1970s, my wife went to town to work, in the 1980s, I got a job in the winter when farm work had slowed, and in the 1990s, I went to work full-time, farming in the evenings and on weekends. Now I have no one else to send to town to work.”
Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s (RMFU) board of directors voted to support the Senate version of the farm bill over its House counterpart. Here’s why:
The Senate bill includes mandatory country-of-origin food labeling, prohibition of packer ownership of livestock more than 14 days before slaughter, slightly higher loan rates, and more rights for farmers who enter into production contracts with processors. RMFU also favors the Senate farm bill because of the provision which caps program payments at $275,000 per operation per year. The 1996 farm bill put 60 percent of program payments into the hands of only 10 percent of the nation’s farms. The House version of the new farm bill would continue this distorted structure, while the Senate farm bill—with its caps— places payments at the level of a family farm. There’s nothing wrong with operators who want to expand beyond the size of a family operation, but there is no reason for government programs to support them in their expansion.
The Senate farm bill is a move in the right direction. It begins to address the fundamental problem facing family producers, that of inadequate prices. Without commodity prices that allow producers to cover expenses and make a reasonable profit, they will have to rely on subsidies to make up the difference.
The 1996 farm bill has been a dismal failure. Its lack of production controls depressed commodity prices, causing Congress to allocate billions in “emergency payments.” While producers have definitely been in need of the series of federal bailouts under the current farm bill, it is not really how they prefer to make their money.
Perhaps production controls to keep excess commodities from flooding the market and depressing prices, along with higher loan rates so that producers are able to get higher prices in the marketplace are not such bad ideas!