The Farm Bill Debate

At the same time I see farm folks lining up to have their say on Farm Bill negotiations I read this from the Delta Farm Press:

It must have been a lot of fun to show up at meetings in the summer of 2010 and bash your sitting congressman or senator. No one knows how many video clips were shot of Tea Party members shouting down members of the U.S. House and Senate, some of whom had put their careers on the line for farmers.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost, so to speak, and, for the first time in decades farmers are faced with the very real possibility of not having a new farm bill or much chance of an extension of the current legislation when the 2008 law expires later this year.

By now, most of you have seen reports of the new federal budget proposed by Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee. The proposal would cut $33 billion from federal farm programs or about $10 billion more than the House and Senate Agriculture Committees proposed last fall.

Unlike previous years, this time the House of Representatives is filled with freshman members who have little or no sense of the purpose of farm programs or the stability they provide to agriculture. All most of them know is they think they have a mandate to cut federal spending.

House and Senate Democrats have tried to point this out in their statements about the Ryan budget. Rep. Colin Peterson, D-Minn., and ranking member of the House Ag Committee, said farmers could pretty much kiss any chance of a new farm bill goodbye for this year.

Sen. Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and one of the principal authors of the 2008 farm bill, said the Ryan budget poses real threats to programs such as health care and farm programs for residents of his state of North Dakota and the nation.

“The cuts to agriculture programs will especially hurt North Dakota, and would pull the rug out from under thousands of hard working farm and ranch families,” he said in a statement released by his office.

Conrad said the Ryan plan “is a mix of deep reductions in federal spending and tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans. It calls for cutting federal support for education and job training programs, energy and infrastructure programs, Pell grants for college students, and health care programs, including Medicare. 

“The House Republican proposal also upends a bipartisan agreement on the amount of federal support for agriculture programs and will make it extremely difficult to craft a new farm bill this year.”

As Conrad notes, the Ryan budget calls for about $180 billion in cuts in the USDA budget, including $31 billion to commodity and crop insurance programs, $133.5 billion to nutrition assistance programs, and about $16 billion to conservation programs. That’s in contrast to last fall’s House and Senate agriculture committee proposal to cut $23 billion in agriculture, conservation and nutrition program funding.

“We had an agreement on what the savings would be out of agriculture and then Congressman Ryan comes along and throws that agreement out the window,” Conrad said. “In order to get this farm bill done now, it’s going to require House Republicans to tell Congressman Ryan that his plan goes way too far and that they’re not going to go for it.”  

The Purpose of Government

Yesterday I attended a small meeting of folks interested in Rhode Island’s food system. They have established a Rhode Island Food Policy Council. They are sincere and want to improve local food production, access to affordable food, etc.

As I listened, I realized that many of them see their task as changing policies in the State to better serve the Council’s goals  – improve zoning ordinances and comprehensive plans, instruction on how to register your business, keeping records, etc. 

On its face, that is a reasonable task. As I listened, however, an anxiety grew. I squirmed in my seat. My hands started to shake a bit. I grew generally uncomfortable.

Then I heard someone express their belief that the problem with expanding farming in the State is that community comprehensive plans do not speak to agriculture…and his conclusion is…therefore you can’t farm.

At that point I became an anarchist! 

The purpose of government is NOT to control the people.

The purpose of government, driven by the will and insight of the people, is to provide guidance and education. Yes there is a need to control certain harmful and irrational behaviors, but even that should be done in a caring manner! 

Deciding to farm in a city is not harmful or irrational. 

Deciding it is important to grow healthy food should be guided by the government… not controlled by the government.

The business of selling your healthy food should be guided by the government… not regulated.

A young urban farmer in Providence recently delivered a speech at the National Farmers Union where she professed that she found her sense of patriotism and love of country through urban farming.

Government of the people, by the people, for the people does not mean that government controls every act….it means love thy neighbor.

I would suggest that the Rhode Island Food Policy Council not aid or collaborate with any person or entity in the State whose purpose is not careful and loving.

Rural Farming Lessons from China

China’s industrial growth has challenged the economic might of the United States, but the country’s advances have not occurred evenly. They have come at the expense of rural development, particularly in regions characterized by unfavorable natural conditions and fragile ecosystems. Although China has attained a high degree of grain sufficiency (about 95 percent) and remains a net food exporter, there are signs of enduring serious problems. Poverty combined with food insecurity and malnutrition continues to affect around 150 million Chinese people, according to recent estimates based on the World Bank poverty line of U.S.$1.25. This has exacerbated the widening gap between the wealthy coastal areas, supported by industrial development, and the impoverished peasants of the northwest and southwest who rely on subsistence production. In addition, agricultural income is generally declining and represents a lower percentage of rural household income; many farmers are losing interest in farming, with women and older people becoming the main agricultural cultivators.

Participatory research conducted in southwest China has resulted in concrete strategies to deal with these challenges. Farmers, led by women, have organized effective local organizations for technology development, seed management, and market linkages, with innovative support from the staff of public research and extension agencies. Collaborative field experiments to improve crop varieties—an approach known as participatory plant breeding—local biodiversity fairs, organic farming practices, new market channels, and new forms of research and policy support are contributing to improved farmer livelihoods and to a more dynamic and equitable process of rural development. Modernizing rural development using traditional and local knowledge stands in stark contrast to the shift to industrialized agriculture in China’s coastal regions. Both approaches will be needed if China is to address the challenges of food security, well-being, sustainable natural resource management, and biodiversity conservation.

The Article