There are going to be more challenges to the writing of the 2012 Farm Bill than agriculture has ever seen. That's according to American Farm Bureau Federation Senior Director of Congressional Relations Mary Kay Thatcher, who notes the budget is challenge number one.
"We don't have as much money to write the next Farm Bill as we did in 2008," Thatcher said. "We have 37 programs that were funded in the last Farm Bill, some of them as big as the permanent disaster program, that doesn't have any funding, and obviously with deficit reduction we're probably looking at more cuts before we ever get around to writing it."
Thatcher says another challenge is the number of urban members of Congress, many of whom believe farmers are getting rich thanks to strong prices. But she notes good prices come and go and inclement weather can strike at any time. That's why Thatcher says it's important to remember that the Farm Bill covers several years and should be written to cover the bad. That's one reason she says crop insurance is such an important component of the Farm Bill.
"It's just a real good risk management tool," Thatcher said. "We're able to have farmers pay part of the premium, have the government pay part of the premium to make it affordable, and it insures that if we have tough weather, like we're having now with wildfires in Texas and a lot of flooding in the Midwest, that farmers are able to get enough assistance that they can farm for another year."
According to Thatcher, it's important for the public to understand that crop insurance combines resources from the federal government with resources from the private sector to create widespread coverage for farmers. Crop insurance isn't a free program to farmers, but without the government support premiums would become too costly for farmers to afford adequate coverage.
If that were taken away, or the farm safety net was cut too dramatically it would make it even harder on farmers to handle difficult weather conditions and dips in prices
"We don't just compete with the farmer down the road or the farmer in the next county, we compete with farmers around the world," Thatcher said. "When you look at subsidization around the world the United States is still way below average and the people we compete against for new markets are getting farm more subsidy than we are. So we've been very interested in improving trade and getting the Doha WTO negotiations on, and if we can indeed make progress in that, we'd be willing to cut back some of our subsidies, but we don't want to cut back our subsidies and force our farmers to compete not only against farmers around the world but also against their governments."
That's why Thatcher says it's important for all areas of the agriculture industry to come together during the upcoming Farm Bill debate, using all voices as one for as much political influence as possible.