By Gene Hall
The farm bill should be an easy vote, easily explained back home.
There is not any jobs bill on which Congress could vote that will sustain more jobs than a farm bill. These jobs range from the farm gate to port cities. From truck terminals and railheads to hometown grocery stores, jobs are the legacy of farm bill legislation. There are jobs in urban centers and jobs in small farm towns—jobs dependent on farming.
Add bickering in Washington over a farm bill to the list that scares farmers these days. If you’ve priced a new tractor, or especially a combine, you know you quickly get to six figures. If you lose a crop, you have big trouble. I believe the biggest fear is probably risk. In this drought cycle and persistent rounds of crop-ruining hail, risks in farming are much more daunting than rolling the dice in Vegas.
Congress is set to debate the next farm bill with a deadline of Sept. 30. The budget rancor in Washington is intense and everyone knows that farm spending will be less than before. Farmers have accepted that.
What I hear from Texas farmers is this: “We have to preserve the crop insurance safety net. Without that, another year like 2011 will take almost everyone out of the farming business in Texas and other places.”
Crop insurance is subsidized. That’s because the risk is so great in farming that it’s not feasible for a farmer to pay all of it. Prices fluctuate and premiums are high, reflecting the risk. There is simply no scenario in which a banker would approve an operating loan without some risk protection.
For this reason, a lot of courageous members of Congress vote for a farm bill. No one wants food prices to get as high as they would without one. However, some conservative members, in a foolish scramble to get to the political right of each other, are saying some very un-statesmanlike things, such as, “You know I’m for farmers, but I just can’t vote for all that nutrition spending.”
In recent history, agriculture spending has been disproportionally cut because it’s easy, visible and doesn’t really take much in the way of political courage. Let me be clear. As a member of Congress, you are either for farmers—or not—and if you vote against a reasonable farm bill, you are not for farmers.
You may believe you have been sent to Congress to vote “no” on everything. This time a “no vote” on a farm bill is not an acceptable answer. In this case, it’s very simple. Vote for a farm bill that works. It’s the right thing to do.
Members of Congress please—farmers are very serious about this. They are looking down the barrel of a gun loaded with risk. They will not give you a free pass. You are either for farmers or you or not.
This time, if you vote against a farm bill, it’s really very simple. You will have to explain back home why you don’t support farmers.