After the train wreck that became the failure of the Farm Bill in the House of Representatives more than a week ago, there are all sorts of theories on what might happen next. Maybe the House Ag Committee will take the bill back, make a few changes, and try to get it to the floor for passage again. Maybe they will do a complete overhaul, taking out anything remotely controversial, just to get it to conference committee with the Senate.
And then there is the push to separate the farm bill and the SNAP program (food stamps) into two separate pieces of legislation. Some legislators think this would help.
Americans are left wondering, why were farm bill and food stamps combined into one piece of legislation in the first place?
Well, for starters, the two concepts aren’t as far removed as you might think. The food stamp program is to provide food security for families that struggle to provide for themselves. The Farm Bill is to provide food security for our nation so that we don’t have to import food from other countries.
Since I assume you all understand food stamps, let me dive into farm policy for a moment … the government got involved in farm policy and provides subsidies to keep farmers in business to guarantee food security for our nation. Without subsidies, when commodity prices are low (outside of a farmer’s control – unlike other businesses where they set the prices for their products to cover expenses) farmers run the risk of going out of business in mass exodus. This leaves America having to import raw commodities from other nations and leaves us vulnerable to hunger and starvation if the world politics were such that trade couldn’t be accomplished.
Farm policy tends to focus on commodity crops that can be stored for a long time (like corn, soybeans, wheat, rice) instead of veggies that perish quickly – again because of that food security thing. And these days, farm policy focuses mainly on subsidizing crop insurance so that farmers can insure their crops and protect themselves against mother nature. (Remember, like flood insurance, private companies can’t afford to insure farmers because it’s too risky. Much like farming itself.)
Now that we’ve established that farm policy and food stamps aren’t drastically different from each other, the other reason that they are linked is because Congressional representation from rural communities is so small. As farmers decrease, the number of Congressmen that represent farmers also decreases. This is the formula our nation is built on … Congressmen represent the population and the population is moving to large cities.
Without a significant number of Congressmen interested in rural communities and farmer’s livelihood (not that ALL Congressmen shouldn’t be invested in food security, just that this is the nature of the beast in current political climates), we had to find a way to interest urban Congressmen in the Farm Bill. That thing was food stamps.
Urban communities tend to be larger recipients of food stamps. Yes, they are used in rural communities as well, but urban communities use them more because they have more people. This makes sense. By tying the two concepts together, we now have a bill that EVERY Congressman in the U.S. has an interest in, even if they aren’t all interested in the same portions of the bill.
Of course, in our current climate where every group is at odds with every other group, things get complicated. The Farm Bill was designed this way at first because it allowed the bill to be a collaborative bill where every side had something they wanted and they could all work together to give and take their way to a final product.
Our current Congress has trouble with give and take. They can’t do collaboration. They exist only on “my way or the highway.” So a joint, both-sides-of-the-aisle bill becomes very difficult.
Stay tuned. Something will happen on the farm bill, we just don’t know what it will be yet. And one thing is for sure, farmers NEED something to happen because it’s very difficult to manage a family farming business in an unstable climate.
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director