Bill hits farmers hardest
Written by DAVID DUPONT and JAN McLAUGHLIN Sentinel Staff Writers
Monday, 25 June 2012 10:24
Local farmers don’t mind taking some cuts to help reduce the federal budget. But they would like the pain to be spread a little more evenly.
The farm bill passed last week by the U.S. Senate eliminates subsidies which were paid to farmers whether they planted crops or not.
Don Limes, who farms in Middleton Township, understands the need to cut back the direct payment program, but he questioned the need to slash it entirely.
“My thinking is, this should be phased out overtime,” he said. “I do not think we have to lose our whole program.”
While the subsidies were slashed, the bill preserved food stamp funding. In fact, food stamp spending has doubled in the past five years, according to the Associated Press, with a budget now of $80 billion a year.
Limes is troubled by the fact the legislation is called the “farm bill,” when nearly 85 percent of it pertains to food assistance programs.
“We kind of get the label,” while the food programs get the funding, he said.
“I know it’s not very popular,” Limes said of farm subsidies, but the funding does help some farmers stay in business during tougher times.
And though the subsidies may be peanuts compared to the food assistance funding, those direct payments cost about $5 billion a year. That has become a tough sell in a time of a
$1 trillion federal deficit and general prosperity for American farmers.
Between 1995 and 2010, subsidies to Wood County farmers totaled $156 million, according to the database on Environmental Working Group’s website. During that period, the highest subsidies locally ranged from $1.4 million to $636,000 per farm.
Allen Gahler, the Farm Bureau organizational director for Wood, Lucas, Ottawa and Sandusky counties, said most local farmers aren’t opposed to taking their share of a funding decrease.
“We don’t mind taking a bit of a cut,” he said. “As long as there are some safety nets in place, losing direct payments is not the end of the world.”
It’s those safety nets that also concern Limes.
“They must protect the crop insurance program for the American farmer,” Limes said. “It’s a floor of protection. It helps you stay in business.”
Without that insurance, future farmers will find it hard to make it through years of bad crop production or low crop prices.
“Our grandkids might be importing food,” Limes said, if the insurance provisions are preserved.
According to the Associated Press, the switch from direct payments to the revenue loss subsidy was welcomed by Northern and Midwestern corn and soybean farmers but strongly opposed by Southern rice and peanut growers. They traditionally have relied more on direct payments and targeted prices and want to keep parts of those subsidies. The House is expected to be more sympathetic to the Southerners.
The Senate passed its version of the bill late Thursday.
Both Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, a member of the Senate Agriculture committee, and U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, said they are optimistic that the final bill can be passed by the end of July when current legislation expires.
Brown said much of the language in the bill was crafted based on comments he heard during roundtable discussions he hosted in Northwest Ohio, including one in Custar.
He defended the changes. “Taxpayers shouldn’t be paying farmers not to plant. Taxpayers shouldn’t be paying farmers in huge corporate farms.”
The challenge he said is: “How to manage risk so that farmers are in a position where they want to farm but they don’t want government support ... except for a safety net when prices are endemically low or yields are particularly low.”
The bill also is rural development bill, Brown said. The development of bio-based manufacturing fosters “dozens and dozens” of enterprises in rural area.
“It means markets for our growers. It means weaning ourselves off foreign oil. ... It’s good for the environment,” he said.
He dismissed concerns that redirecting food for fuel would increase prices at the grocery store. “Our farmers are so productive that the argument that prices go higher is pretty specious.”
While he said he wished the bill was “stronger on nutrition,” he rejected any notion that spending on Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program is unwarranted.
Half those receiving food stamps are children, he said, and many more are senior citizens or families struggling even though they are working.
“You don’t take assistance from the working poor,” Brown said.
Latta said the House should have its bill out of committee by the first week of July with “a very good possibility that the bill will be voted on by the end of July.”
He said he hasn’t see all that’s in the bill, but either way both the House and Senate are being asked to make $23 billion in reductions, a goal the Senate made.
Latta said the bill is misnamed because 80 percent of the spending is for nutrition programs, a percentage that has risen continually over the past decades.
“It’s important that we get this done,” Latta said. “I would say that the prospects are pretty good that we will get a bill out this year.”
Last Updated on Monday, 25 June 2012 11:05