Twenty-five family farmers from across the Sun Belt have written the chairmen and ranking members of the House Agriculture and Appropriations Committees, urging them to take a stand in defense of the new farm bill.
“This letter is to express our deep concern over the continued attacks on the new farm law,” the letter said. “If sustained, these attacks will divide the U.S. agricultural community, mislead the American public and ultimately result in the demise of one of this nation's most productive and valuable industries.”
The writers, who farm across an area from Riverdale, Calif., to Windsor, Va., said new efforts to amend the farm bill barely one year after enactment and before it is fully implemented, are having a destabilizing effect on production agriculture.
“Farmers in our communities are reluctant to make investments, to enter into long-term leases, to purchase equipment and to make market-driven cropping and agricultural marketing decisions,” the writers said.
“There seems to be a misunderstanding about what constitutes a commercially viable farming operation,” they noted. “Our operations have grown only as necessary to achieve economies of scale, not to generate more government benefits. It is important to realize that program benefits are not profit. Benefits simply help us survive during periods of low prices.”
Despite statements by environmental groups and members of Congress, cotton's per acre payments as a percentage of the cash cost of production are actually lower than those for feed grains and oilseeds, they said.
“Our Commodity Credit Corp. loan price, as a percentage of our cost of production, is significantly lower than our cash cost of production. We have planted in response to market signals, not program benefits. This is not over-production. USDA projections show that cotton's carryover stocks will have declined significantly during the current crop year and are expected to decline again in the next crop year.”
USDA studies of agriculture census data show that program payments have not contributed to increases in farm size over the last 20 years, as some groups have claimed. The studies conclude that program benefits only account for 8 percent of the increase in land values.
“Without doubt, we are most concerned about the constant threat of amendments to apply even more restrictive limits on farm program benefits. With more restrictive limits and during periods of low prices, a producer of cotton, rice and peanuts will be limited on far fewer acres than a farmer with grains and oilseeds,” they said.
“The limits being discussed likely would result in numerous family operations abandoning farming. Another option for survival will be a shift to grains and oilseeds — the crops where limits have less impact. Out West, family farms will switch to specialty crops with the potential for severe disruptions in much narrower markets.
“And, many landlords will shift to cash rent. The loss of share rent agreements, an effective risk-sharing arrangement, will subject tenant farmers to greater risk exposure and increased difficulty in financing.”
The farmers said the United States must have a “a stable, predictable and equitable farm policy. U.S. agricultural policy is not just about loan rates and payment limits. Renewable fuel policy is critical to reducing our nation's dependence on foreign oil. Effective conservation programs will ensure the protection of our tremendously productive soil and water resources.”
Limiting farmers' access to a financial safety-net is not in the best interest of the U.S. rural economy, production agriculture or the U.S. consumer, they said.
“Current farm law needs to remain intact,” they said. “We appreciate your support and encourage you to be certain that your colleagues from outside the Cotton Belt understand the importance of maintaining the new farm law.
Delta farmers sending the letters include: Laudies Brantley, England, Ark.; Dan Branton, Leland, Miss.; Boyd Holley, Bastrop, La.; C.B. King, Canton, Miss.; Charles Parker, Senath, Mo.; Ray Sneed, Millington, Tenn.; and Barney Wade, Calhoun City, Miss.