Does the Farm Bill Give Farmers What They Want?

ANALYSIS - The long and almost tortuous progress of the US 2012 Farm Bill appears to be reaching a conclusion as the Agriculture Committee passed the bipartisan proposals with a majority of 16-5, writes editor-in-chief, Chris Harris.
calendar icon 30 April 2012
clock icon 4 minute read

Now, the bill goes forward to the full senate for approval, with what appears to be almost universal approval from the political and farming community.

The bill, entitled the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, reforms farm policy, consolidates and streamlines various programmes and, the politicians claim ambitiously, will reduce the country's deficit by $23 billion.

The new bill eliminates direct payment to farmers, who will no longer be paid for crops they are not growing and will not be paid for acres that are not actually planted.

However, the bill also offers farmers a large measure of protection.

It consolidates two remaining farm programmes into one, and will give farmers the ability to tailor risk management coverage giving them meaning better protection against real risks beyond a farmer's control. It also strengthens crop insurance and expands access, so farmers are not ruined by a few days of bad weather.

The removal of direct support subsidies has been welcomed by many a cross the US and it should also be welcomed across the other side of the Atlantic in the EU, where the Common Agricultural Policy reforms are aiming to achieve the same effect.

It could also have strong repercussions within the World Trade Organisation, when many countries such as Australia and New Zealand and the South American nations have been clamouring for a reduction in direct payment subsidies around the world.

The bill also aims to simplify the number of programmes that have built up over the years as add-ons to previous legislation.

By ending duplication and consolidating these programmes, it eliminates dozens of programmes under the Agriculture Committee's jurisdiction. For example, it consolidates 23 existing conservation programmes into 13 programmes, while maintaining the existing tools farmers and landowners need to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife.

The bill's sponsors say that it also aims to close loopholes, tighten standards and it requires greater transparency. Largely on the employment and social support front, the bill appears to clamp down on the ability to use the system to obtain benefits while it says it maintains benefits for families in need.

The bill also aims to grow agricultural jobs through expanding export opportunities and helping farmers develop new markets for their goods and investing in research to help bring new agricultural innovations to the market.

The bill also has a strong accent on boosting the renewable energy industry and boosting bio-based products. It states that it want to grow bio-based manufacturing by allowing bio-manufacturers to participate in existing U.S. Department of Agriculture loan programmes and to expand the BioPreferred labelling initiative and strengthen a procurement preference so the U.S. government will select bio-based products when buying goods.

It aims to encourage advancements in bioenergy production, supporting advanced biomass energy production such as cellulosic ethanol and pellets from woody biomass for power and it will aim to help family farmers sell locally by increasing support for farmers' markets and encouraging the creation of food hubs to connect farmers to schools and other community-based consumers.

The bill also extends rural development initiatives to help rural communities upgrade infrastructure and create an environment for small businesses to grow.

With the strong support across the political spectrum and also from within the industry, the long passage of this bill could finally be reaching an end. However, whether it could become a target for change following the US presidential election later this year remains to be seen.

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