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"Crop insurance industry groups have probably had more influence on this farm bill process than any of the commodity groups," John Anderson, senior economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, Washington, said at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Agricultural Economics Association. “They’ve been hugely important in the process. Where’s the money now in the farm safety net? It’s not in Title 1 programs, it’s not in the commodity-specific programs — it’s in crop insurance, and the crop insurance industry is going to figure more prominently than ever before in the kinds of farm programs we have."
ARDIAN HARRI, left, associate professor of agricultural economics, and Hart Bailey, professor of pathobiology and population medicine, Mississippi State University, were among those attending the annual meeting of the Mississippi Agricultural Economics Association.
The new farm bill — at whatever time it may finally become law — will not only be slimmed down money-wise, but says John Anderson, it will also represent a rather significant sea change in the long history of farm legislation, the attitude of the American public and policymakers toward farm law, and the way farm programs are administered.
And this could, in the years ahead, have an impact on agricultural research, trade promotion, and other smaller programs that have traditionally been lumped into omnibus farm bills in which the bulk of the spending was for commodity and nutrition titles.
“The benefit profile of the current omnibus legislation is different from that of the past,” Anderson said at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Agricultural Economics Association at Mississippi State University.
The Arkansas native and former MSU Extension economics professor, now senior economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, says land grant universities such as MSU “have a big stake in what goes on in this farm bill, because funding for ag research and other programs is included in it.
“There are also trade titles for market access and market development programs that are really important for some commodities. While these are relatively small amounts of money in terms of the overall legislation, they’re really important programs to those particular sectors.”
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While the wrangling and delays in the current farm bill debate have garnered most of the attention by the ag media, Anderson says there are other factors at work that reflect changing attitudes about agriculture — not just in the non-farm public and in the policymaking arena, but also in the farm community.
“I hear over and over again in Washington, ‘It’s hard to get farmers engaged on the farm bill — there’s just a lot of apathy.’ Farm programs just aren’t as critical to the survival of today’s farmers as they used to be.
“In the past, farm legislation was wildly popular,” he says. “It was big; there was a lot of money in it. So, you could hang these smaller programs such as research and trade, etc., onto an omnibus bill and the amount of money they represented wasn’t that big a deal. Now, we’re trying to attach all those programs to a farm title that’s fairly small and not that popular.”
This could particularly be a problem, he says, if the farm title and nutrition title are separated, as some factions in Congress want to do. “Funding for these smaller programs would stand out more in a standalone farm title and would get more attention from the budget cutters.”
The cost/benefit calculus of the omnibus model needs to be given some thought, Anderson says. “It’s something that needs to be talked about. This farm bill is the first time it’s come to the forefront, the first time that we’ve had to really contemplate this issue.”