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While I am waiting on a preliminary set of FARRM Bill rules to comment on, I will dissect what I think went right and wrong with this last farm bill.
Who did what right, who over played their hand. Who cut the deck just about right. And, last but not least what this holds in store for the next farm bill.
I still have to be convinced there will be a next farm bill. Well, maybe one more, but after redistricting in 2020, it is going to get tough. Why, you ask. Rural areas of the country continue to lose population, large cities stay the same and the suburbs grow, especially “down south”. These ares are represented by representatives who understand they do not have many people in their districts who “benefit” from a farm bill. At least not directly benefit.
I will start with who did it wrong, well maybe not wrong but not right.
All the “general” farm groups. Their job is to bring all the separate commodity groups together hash out their differences and present a untied front to get a farm bill. This did not happen and it almost cost American Agriculture a farm bill. Farmers Union has to get back somewhat into the mainstream of American Agriculture, yes it is changing it is not your Grandfather’s type of agriculture anymore.
Farm Bureau just needs to start leading and somehow get the corn, soybean, wheat, cotton, rice, cattle and hog people to agree on an overall framework for agricultural policy.
Corn and soybeans need to understand there are other agricultural commodities besides theirs and what works for corn and soybeans does not always work for other commodities. Corn growers have to understand the resentment against corn from other agriculture groups. Those groups like to say corn has already got “theirs” and theirs means ethanol. The staff at these agricultural groups want more acres and production of their crops. Why you ask? More crops means in most cases more check off money which means higher budgets, more programs, and maybe more pay for the staffers. Sounds harsh, but the flip side in many cases has been less crops, less checkoffs and that leads to staffing cuts. So agricultural group leaders you sometimes have to what is right for all agriculture and not always listen to staff. This does not mean ignore them and not to value their opinion, but you sometimes need to do things and figure things out for yourself. Take out the organization’s finances and do what is right for agriculture. If you do what is right for your farmers and ranchers it will all work out in the end.
I am sure the mule and horse organization staffers could see what was coming when tractors started being used in production agriculture. These staffers if they are good will be alright, and so will your organization.
Midwestern Politicians, need to in regards to agricultural policy quit being so partisan and do like the boys and girls do in the southern states and that is to figure out what works for the Midwest and then push that. Goes for both sides of the aisle, but for years it was more of a democrat then republican problem. As an example Senator(s) from an I state(s) was(were) always “out there” when it came to agricultural policy. He needs to read my advice to Farmers Union above. About the only thing they agree on is ethanol. We in the Midwest also need to understand that the tobacco program was the best thing going for many areas of the south and it was a Midwestern Senator from a very large agricultural state who was the main driver to eliminate that program. What goes around sometimes comes back around.
Another thought on one of the least tenured Senators from the Midwest, He has once again introduced legislation to cut the Sugar program out of the farm bill. Well so much for protecting your Midwestern interests from others wanting to get rid of say things like, ethanol.
Livestock groups who opposed the farm bill. COOL and GIPSA were not going to be taken up and worked on by a Harry Reid led Senate and a liberal progressive president. Face it, it was not going to happen. Livestock disaster was made permanent which is huge. No more having to go back to ask (beg) for a livestock disaster program. I have also been told there is a forage disaster program that is retroactive to 2012. Which means forage producers could get big checks for feed costs during the 2012 drought. I have not been able to get a whole lot of information on this, but if true this is big.
So NPPC opposed final passage, but why NCBA. Is the national cattle group that controlled by large meat corporations that they cannot make a balanced judgement call and see that the positives outweigh the negatives. Negatives that were not going to be handled anyway with the players at the table. I was told by a Cattle Official that they were told COOL and GIPSA affect all producers all the time and disaster stuff only affects some producers some of the time. I think it all came down to “if you don’t play my way then I am taking my ball and going home”.
Senator Stabenow has said if COOL is challenged and the U. S. loses then “COOL will be suspended, changed, or repealed”. I don’t like this approach, but it will get challenged, we will lose and it will be “suspended” awaiting changes, which will probably never happen. You may not like it, but it is politics, sometimes one has to give the politicians a way out and this is it. And, for GIPSA it is defunded anyway and funds will not be available for it in this budget climate so it is not even an issue. I want to see a NCBA official say to all those Dakota Ranchers who lost cows in that blizzard that NCBA was against them getting disaster relief. Which is what they were advocating with a no vote on the farm bill. Final passage, it is all or nothing and the Livestock groups chose nothing. COOL and GIPSA will be non issues in the immediate future after a WTO court case. I know they “fear” retaliation, but I really believe as soon as we lose we will fold up and suspend COOL and it is done at that point.
Southern crops such as rice and cotton eventually need to understand market forces and learn how to grow those crops without the best subsidies in all of agriculture.
Another Midwest Senator got most of what he wanted, but in the end the pay caps were an all or nothing vote for him.
Reformers and Tea Party people lost on this one. Why????? They wanted too much change without a Tea Party Senate or President. Tea Party people had several opportunities to get more cuts then they received in the end, but were not politically smart enough to take a “win and go home with it”. Food stamps cut $8 billion when if they would have voted for house bill before they had to split it in two, the cut would have been $10 billion. Not a whole lot of difference, but they say it was on principle, but I say they were in the end dealt with in a way that shows one can wait them out in D.C. Agricultural interests that wanted reforms never offered up alternatives, just kept saying no. No sounds like your parents when you were a kid. People want alternatives not just NO.
Tea Party needs to learn how to win and how to say “yes” while really meaning a “no” and to win something sometime, if they are going to be effective beyond republican primaries. Reformers could also learn the same lesson. Or as I say be in the meeting before the meeting that is before the meeting, which is before the actual public meeting. 4 layers down is where the nut cutting is at.
So how do you do this. Well, early on and I mean real early on have a bunch of Tea Party leaders, and all the Tea Party guys and gals have to go along to be effective, (which may be a problem with this independent bunch) and say to Lucas. “We will help you pass a farm bill, but we want some reforms.” If Lucas doesn’t play ball go to the Republican leader he will make sure Lucas plays ball. Realize the Republicans need a farm bill for about 10 to 15 seats in places like South Dakota (could go either way) and it could be 20 to 35 seats and realize the progressive liberals control the Senate and White House and ask for some common sense reforms that actually save money and get the deal done early. If Dems don’t play it is they that are now saying NO, NO, NO, and looking like they do not want a change in how D.C. operates. Get in front of these things you will get more done.
By the way I was taught how to get things done like this from a very good conservative Democrat. Make the opposition think they are actually winning when you already had a better deal cut then you would have gotten in the end before it all started.
Key is knowing what kind of deal you would or could get cut in the end, before you start in the beginning. Livestock groups were big time guilty of not being realistic enough during this farm bill debate. Corn almost fell into this trap also.
Dairy groups and Peterson tried to “roll” the Speaker of the House, not smart. Really not smart. Lots of people were watching this and this will put targets on your back. Dairy policy will pay for this for a long time. Leahy had to come in and save the Dairy folks from themselves. I am sure he loved spending his political capital saving them this way. Peterson is mad at the Tea Party, but way to win this for him was to just defeat them in total bill at the end not just with dairy. Dairy farming is changing big time. It is getting big in a hurry and policy has to change with the change in that industry. Still some small guys and gals out there, but they also have to realize they are less and less in numbers.
Now for winners or people who did not “hurt” themselves.
Lucas had some missteps early especially dealing with corn and soybeans, but he did it in the end. Lucas did well for lots of “western” grain crops, wheat, barley, and sorghum.
Stabenow got much of what she wanted and she helped her home state producers in the process.
Vilsack was helpful but now his real job begins implementing this thing and I worry he does not have enough bodies on the ground in county FSA offices to get the job done. Lots of retirements with no re-hiring to replace those ladies at the counters who knew how to get it done.
Southern crops were winners again. No surprise here, just good solid politics. Even though my above statement about the future still holds true, eventually they will have to get by with just the markets and less government support.
Sugar is a shining example of how to get it done. But again they day of reckoning is coming.
House Republican Leadership showed it can get things done in Washington, if it wants to. They needed to move this issue to make sure they would still dominate in the rural and I mean real rural (think South Dakota) house races this fall. Not an election year issue anymore.
Question now becomes if this administration at the White House level does not take the Farm Bill serious enough to implement it correctly and in a timely fashion could it reflect negatively on democratic candidates in rural areas come November. I think Vilsack and USDA will try, but they are going to need a re-allocation of some resources at USDA and re-thinking of priorities to get this done.
So what about the future??????
This could very well be the last or next to last Farm Bill. As I said in the beginning after 2022 elections it will get tough. Less and less money, less and less farmers, less and less rural people. American is changing, not a good or bad observation, just changing. Less and less people will remember, Grandpa & Grandma, or Mom & Dad, or Uncle Bill and Aunt Judi on the farm. They have no clue what we do or how we do it, or what we are up against at times.
In 8 short years it will get tough. Farms and Ranches will be bigger and more specialized. People get their food from Wal Mart not the Farms and Ranches. Our end users will want us to produce it in ways that we may not be able to economically for the mass of humanity on this planet. Lots of water that needs to flow under lots of bridges.
This could all change, I remember in about 1979 and how insignificant the government programs were to us back them. By 1985 that had changed drastically. Next time it may be that the government itself will not be in a position to help. Plug that into your long term budgets and see what that does for you.
Long term I would like to see a crop and forage insurance program that uses multiple year averages to take aggressive weather and price swings into account. Maybe something like 85% of long term price average and 85% of long term yields maximum to smooth out the ups and downs of agriculture. Tax free savings accounts to offset other losses would be good also.
But, I also need to prepare for the day when most of these programs could go away. Gasp, gasp, cough, cough, but it could happen. That would be a whole new world.
Lastly I will discuss what is going on with 80% of the farrm bill which is Food Stamps. Or the decision that is being made by USDA to “slow walk” the new rules on food stamps. Not good long term for getting agreements from opposing views on the next farm bill.