An audience member brought up renewable fuels and the coalition between nutrition programs and agriculture interests. “If the coalition between food stamp (proponents) and agriculture falls apart, we might not have another farm bill. But I’d argue, taking what was just said about the Midwest, that in this area the prosperity of agriculture isn’t related to the farm so much as it is to renewable (energy) – ethanol and biodiesel. If we have a choice between one and the other, I think most people would say we’re much better off with the renewable (energy) and let the farm bill go.

“What is the support in (Congress) for ethanol and biodiesel?”

Bert Greenwalt, an ASU agricultural economist who was moderating the panel, replied, “I’ve heard it mentioned that the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is the biggest subsidy program that the corn industry has relative to the direct- and counter-cyclical programs. And it also has an impact on soybeans.”

More on the RFS here.

Outlaw said it is likely, “we’ll be having a big push to relook at the Renewable Fuel Standard within a year. Sometime next year, there will be another push.

“While I don’t think (the RFS) has a chance of being defeated, I do think there’s a chance it will be adjusted. That’s especially true if it’s put off for long enough. (Iowa Sen. Tom) Harkin has announced he will retire and he’s been a big supporter of (the RFS).

“People have gravitated to, ‘The farm bill was there and was set so low that it really isn’t relevant. But this other thing (the RFS) is helping us a lot.’”

Outlaw also lamented the lack of lawmaker understanding of agriculture. “I do know that some of the partisan issues kept the new farm bill from being passed. That’s obvious. But I don’t think the average person in the audience knows how few (lawmakers in Congress) understand any of the stuff we do.

“Twenty years ago, when I began doing this, you’d have a meeting (on Capitol Hill) and there would be 20 people – members, not staff – asking intelligent questions.”

That has changed in a major way. “I just testified in front of the House,” Outlaw continued. “If there was more than three or four that understood what I was talking about, I’d be surprised. And it’s their job to know about this. The problem is there’s a lot of (lawmakers) who aren’t interested in agriculture as much as other issues.”

Erickson: “I think there’s a measure of truth to that. I come from South Dakota where there’s been a lot of depopulation as farms have gotten larger. So, the farm voice isn’t as consistent in a lot of places as you might otherwise think.

“Look at the make-up of committees, as well. Even on the House Agriculture Committee this year we talk about how we can see a way to a farm bill. But on the Democratic side of the House Agriculture Committee, of the 21 members only eight were there (in 2012). And most of the people coming on to those committees aren’t from traditional agriculture (regions). They are there for the nutrition programs or conservation or something else.

“So, it isn’t a surprise that we see a dwindling base of expertise in Congress for a lot of things (agriculture) cares about.”

Outlaw also reiterated his belief that the Commodity Title is on its last legs. “I’ve already gone on record many, many times saying that this is the last farm bill we’d recognize as having a significant (Commodity) Title component.

“After this (farm) bill is passed – and I do think it will pass and direct payments won’t be part of it – we’ll be mostly crop insurance-oriented.”

As for students planning to return to the farm, Outlaw advised to, “look at your relative market prices and figure out what you can make money on. Stop worrying so much about organizing your (operation) to take advantage of government benefits. Once the government kicks in, the safety net will be low.”

What about means-testing crop insurance premiums?

“That’s coming,” said Outlaw. “Whenever the only safety net is crop insurance, then it gets all the spotlight.”