The 2012 Farm Bill debate hasn’t started in earnest, and yet, farm programs have been a hot topic of discussion in the nation’s capital.
According to Ohio State University Ag Economist Carl Zulauf, two major, powerful forces are converging this year resulting in the focus on farm policy:
"The first is short-term in nature, and that is the current focus on the budget deficit and the desire to bring the budget deficit down, and looking for savings in farm programs. And the second is a longer term change in US agriculture that has resulted in a discussion of ‘Are the current farm programs really appropriate for the structure of US agriculture that exists today?’”
Zulauf says that’s not a new discussion - and suggests farm safety net programs must meet the needs of modern agriculture:
“The safety net or any programs should meet the need of the sector. There’s been this increasing concern that the safety net does not match up with the current needs of US agriculture.”
That’s why Zulauf says change is coming and agriculture must get involved. But he says agriculture can, and should, ensure any changes are made in a strategic, big picture way.
Looking at it as an economist - Zulauf believes a good safety net program that meets the current needs of the farm sector will include four key elements…
“It should be oriented to the market. Use the private market to help guide, to help set the parameters of the public policy. The policy should be very transparent, it should be clear what the policy is trying to accomplish and it should be clear as to how the policy is being put into operation. It should be accountable to tax payers. For example, it should be reasonable to expect that one should not receive a farm program payment, unless one has experienced a loss. This is an important issue that is being raised by a lot of people.
And then the fourth thing is, I think that the program should be simple, it should be efficient, and what we mean here by efficiency is that the different parts of the safety net should largely work together. I’m including crop insurance as well as the farm programs.”
Perfect integration of the various farm safety net programs, according to Zulauf, is likely too much to ask. He says there are too many factors that would prevent complete integration. But he says it’s not unreasonable to ask those crafting the farm bill to look for areas that can be more coordinated.