In today’s political landscape there are tight budgets, increasing demands and fiscal shortcomings at every level of government. But instead of thoughtful compromise, it still seems that in far too many cases, there are an awful lot of gridlocked black and white extremes and not much gray somewhere in the middle. That is not the case, however, in the current farm bill debate as farmers from Ohio are leading a charge of compromise.
With so many variables (most notably the weather) that farmers can’t control, there is a legitimate need for a federal farm safety net in the farm bill. Without the assurance of something to fall back upon, farmers would be severely hindered in their ability to produce the crops that society needs. The question is, though, with the spending challenges and tight budgets at all levels of government, and the record income levels for agriculture, how much of a safety net is really necessary to keep farmers in business and consumers well fed?
Farmers in Ohio have been working on an answer to this complex and politically loaded question.
“We believe inefficient spending should be eliminated from all sectors of the Federal Government,” said Anthony Bush, a Morrow County farmer and vice president of the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association (OCWGA). “Before we ask other sectors of government spending to examine their programs, we felt that we should examine our own and offer up policy that fits with our beliefs.”
This sentiment led the Ohio organization to take the idea to the national level, which has resulted in a farmer-driven policy recommendation in the farm bill debate that saves taxpayer dollars.
Working in concert with the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), the Ohio farmers consulted some of the nation’s top agricultural economists, including Ohio State University’s Carl Zulauf, to improve upon the ACRE program that was a safety net option in the previous farm bill. The result is the Agriculture Disaster Assistance Program (ADAP), which simplifies the current program, eliminates overlapping coverage with personal crop insurance and replaces the current Direct Payment program. Early estimates suggest that the changes could save $15 billion over 10 years, while preserving the vital components required for an effective farm safety net.
The OCWGA has pushed to get ADAP developed in time to be a viable part of the farm bill debate in the U.S. Congress.
“There was a sense of urgency to get our proposal out in front of the Super Committee that includes Ohio’s own Senator Rob Portman. The Ag Committees have been given a mid-October deadline to submit recommendations for consideration,” Bush said. “We realize that the scoring process by the Congressional Budget office takes time, but is critical to what ultimately becomes law.”
It is also important to note that, while the farm bill is politically associated with production agriculture, the vast majority of the cost and programs in the bill are focused on getting proper nutrition to consumers.
“The political realities of any farm bill are that it is really a nutrition bill,” Bush said. “These provisions have been put into the farm bill over the years to help garner urban support as our population gets further removed from the farm. The actual ‘farm’ part of the farm bill is less than one half of one percent of the federal budget.”
The bottom line is that this nation cannot continue to sustain such debt levels and it must reign in spending. And, while reducing the spending on one half of one percent of the federal budget will not solve the problem, the philosophy being demonstrated by the farmer members of the OCWGA sets a unique and important precedent in today’s political battles where neither side is willing to give any ground.
“Everyone had the same goal in mind that we needed to send a message to our members of Congress that we wanted to be part of the solution not the problem,” Bush said. “We can no longer just kick the can down the road. Currently, about 40 cents of every dollar our government spends is borrowed. The ADAP program that NCGA has proposed is not a lucrative program; it is a true safety net that would be there when producers need it most.”
Sometimes, in a black and white world, it is nice to see a refreshing shade of gray.
For more from Bush about the details of ADAP, visit http://ocj.com/crops/ohioans-are-playing-a-major-role-in-the-farm-bill-debate/.