Top 10 policy issues facing ag
In the spirit of David Letterman’s Top 10 list, a renowned agricultural economist offered his take on the Top 10 policy issues facing agriculture during the recent American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA) convention in San Antonio.
“We have an abundance of policy issues facing agriculture today,” Barry Flinchbaugh, professor emeritus at Kansas State University, told about 400 farmland experts from across the nation gathered for their 86th annual meeting, Oct. 26-31. “It’s impossible to rank them like Letterman would do. All of these issues are affected by the political uncertainty of today, and political uncertainty leads to economic uncertainty.”
As more regulation is heaped on agriculture, organizations like ASFMRA are increasingly dedicated to keeping their members informed. The organization’s new president, Merrill Swanson of Texas, said, “What our organization does first and best is ensure our members are true experts in managing and appraising their clients’ millions of acres of land assets. In today’s climate of ever-changing technology and ever-encroaching government involvement, we have to keep our farm managers and appraisers up to date on ag and energy policy.”
“I’ve been around a long time,” he said, “and I have never seen the government more mean-spirited, more dysfunctional and more partisan than what I see today.”
Dennis Reyman, government relations co-chairman of ASFMRA, said, “Having Dr. Flinchbaugh on the roster is another example of this organization bringing the best to its membership.” Reyman, an accredited farm manager and rural appraiser with Stalcup Ag at Storm Lake in northwest Iowa, said, “Dr. Flinchbaugh always provides an astute and candid assessment of ag policy and issues. He tells the real story for ag in a colorful and memorable way, and his message is thought-provoking.”
According to Flinchbaugh, within today’s environment in Washington, D.C., of “so little leadership across the board,” he offered his top policy issues facing U.S. agriculture today, in no particular order:
• Macro-economic policy. “Hopefully we’re going to get past Dec. 11 [when the stopgap federal spending measure passed by Congress earlier this fall will expire] and not shut the government down. What will happen to the American economy if we default? Nobody knows. It has never happened,” Flinchbaugh said.
Only one department in the U.S. government is doing its job and acting responsibly today, he asserted. “One department is working well, and in fact, saved us from depression in 2007-08. That’s the Federal Trade. “Now this is a great success story,” Flinchbaugh declared. “U.S. agriculture is a positive contributor to the balance of trade.” He challenged anti-trade organizations to justify their view. “If you’re anti-trade, I want you to tell me which third of ag we’re gonna shut down. Roughly a third of everything we produce has to find a home outside the U.S.”
• Biotechnology. “This issue is more fraught with myth than all the rest combined,” Flinchbaugh said, particularly in regard to GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and the push to require GMO labeling. “The activists are spreading hocus pocus.” By not employing the biotechnological advances made in the food industry, we risk the greatest hazard: starvation. “There is no record of any person anywhere in the world that’s ever had a health problem because of GMOs. But if we curtail genetic engineering in our food supply, we cannot feed 2 billion more people. They will starve.”
• Concentration in the economy. “We’ve had anti-trust laws on the books since Teddy Roosevelt. We’re caught in the sandwich effect, between a concentrated input supply economy and concentrated market for our output,” said Flinchbaugh. “Why don’t we enforce those anti-trust laws?”
• Food safety and nutrition. In discussing whether food programs should continue under the farm bill, Flinchbaugh said, “There are 435 congressmen, and only 35 of the districts they represent are farm districts. If the food programs aren’t in the farm bill, there isn’t gonna be a new farm bill. Now who needs who? If food stamps are removed, the USDA will cease to exist as a cabinet level agency.”
• Water. Calling water the toughest issue world agriculture faces, Flinchbaugh said there are more questions than answers, and the U.S. farming industry needs to have a voice as these topics are tackled: Will there be enough water in the future? How do we distribute it? Should control be local or federal?
• Politics of the minority. At less than 1% of the population, farmers in the U.S. are definitely in the minority. “Agriculture is so efficient that we can feed this nation with 1% of the population,” he said. But since all ag policy is determined in an urban environment, those in agriculture must practice the politics of the minority and fight to remain relevant among policymakers. “We must not accept this idea that as we become fewer and fewer, we become less politically powerful.”
Leonard writes from Holstein.
• macro-economic policy
• energy policy
• climate change
• concentration in the economy
• food safety and nutrition
• politics of the minority
This article published in the December, 2015 edition of WALLACES FARMER.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2015.