by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Farm-policy

Nov 28 2016

Small farms: the new math

My former student, Michael Bulger sends interesting tidbits.  This one is an article on 538 by Maggie Koerth-Baker how the USDA’s ways of measuring farm size and number obscure the (a) the increasingly rapid consolidation of large farms and (b) the fact that many small farms aren’t farms at all.

From 2001 to 2011, the number of very large farms — 2,000 acres or more — grew from 1.7 percent of all farms to 2.2 percent. In other words, a relative handful of big farms are getting even bigger, even though the amount of land being farmed stayed about the same.

From 1982 to 2012, the number of very small farms grew from about 637,000 farms of 49 acres or less to more than 800,000.

Big farms and tiny farms are increasing; the ones in the middle are declining.

A lot of this has to do with the definition of a farm as “any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the reference year.”

$1,000 isn’t much, and this makes it difficult to tell real farms from big backyards.

But changing the definition to up the cut point has consequences.

  • Votes for the Farm Bill: Large farms don’t need government aid; if there are fewer small farms it might be harder to pass the bill.
  • States might lose federal revenues.
  • Land-grant colleges might lose research revenues.

As I keep saying, agricultural policy is hard for mere mortals to understand (but I keep trying).

 

 

Nov 24 2016

Happy Thanksgiving: Special thanks to farmers

Thanks today for everything there is to be thankful for, and especially to the National Farmers Union for reminding us how small a share our farmers get of the American food dollar.

I know you can’t read this, so try this piece.

Or maybe just this one?

Where does the rest go?  Labor, processing, transportation, marketing, etc.

Ponder that, and enjoy your dinner!

Nov 18 2016

Weekend reading: USDA’s analysis of decline in mid-size farms

The USDA has a report out on midsize farms, those with gross cash farm income of $350,000 to $1 million.

The reason for the report is that the number of midsize farms declined by 5% from 1992 to 2012.

How worried should we be about this?  Of the 125,000 midsize farms, the great majority grow grain and oilseeds—animal feed.

USDA finds:

  • The loss in midsize farms is higher among beginning farmers, retired farmers, and renters.
  • Government subsidies helped stave off losses.
  • If past patterns hold, a significant percentage (15%?) of today’s midsize farms will be tomorrow’s large farms.

I can’t wait to see how the next farm bill handles this one.

Nov 15 2016

Trump’s Agriculture Policy?

I never believe any promises made by candidates during election campaigns because once in office they do whatever they please.

But yesterday’s Politico Morning Agriculture obtained a leaked copy of pre-election Talking Points prepared for Trump’s Advisory Committee on Agriculture and Rural Issues, which hints at the team’s thinking (you have to read between the lines).

My favorites:

  • 7.  The Trump-Pence Secretary of Agriculture will defend American Agriculture against its critics, particularly those who have never grown or produced anything beyond a backyard tomato plant.
  • 9. …The next EPA Administrator should be an individual that fully understands ad embraces the complexity of agriculture and rural issues.
  • 10.  …agriculture will NOT be regulated based upon the latest trend on social media.

Speculation is fun (or maybe not in this instance).  We have no choice but to wait and see.  Stay tuned.

 

Nov 3 2016

Food Policy Action’s 2016 Congressional Scorecard

This year, only three Senators—Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Richard Durbin—got top scores from Food Policy Action for their votes on food and farm issues.  This is down from the 29 who earned perfect scores in 2015.

In the House, 79 representatives got perfect scores as opposed to 87 in 2015.

The annual Scorecard ranks lawmakers on whether they support legislation on issues such as GMO labeling, hunger, fisheries management, food waste, pesticides, the EPA’s waters of the U.S. rule, among others.

Image result for food policy scorecard map

It’s disappointing that fewer legislators are getting top scores, since one of the purposes of this activity is to hold them accountable and encourage more liberal voting on food and farm issues.

 

 

Mar 17 2016

Politico’s The Agenda: The Food Issue (with my article on the farm bill)

Politico’s magazine, The Agenda, has an entire issue on food.  The lead  piece is The Great FLOTUS Food Fight and there are other interesting pieces too: The U.S. food safety system, a survey of food experts, a video of kids talking about their school lunches, and a Q&A with Tom Vilsack.

But also scroll around to find my contribution, The Farm Bill Drove Me Insane.

It starts:

In fall 2011, in an act of what can be described only as hubris, I had the bright idea of teaching a course on the farm bill.

For nearly 25 years, I had been writing and teaching about food politics and policy at New York University, and I knew that the farm bill dictated not only agricultural policy, but also such things as international food aid and feeding the hungry in America. It had to be one of the most important laws affecting food systems—if you care about such matters, likely the most important. With the 2008 farm bill up for renewal, I wanted to know more about it, and professor that I am, I thought: What better way to learn something than to teach it?

Big mistake.

Read more here.

Nov 18 2015

Food Policy Action releases 2015 Congressional scorecard

I went yesterday to the press conference for the release of the Food Policy Action 2015 Scorecard.

IMG-20151117-00671

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was outdoors at Campos Community Garden in Manhattan’s East Village, attended by classes of schoolkids.  The speakers:

Food Policy Action aims to improve national discussions of food policy issues by informing the public about how elected officials vote on these issues.  Hence: the Scorecard.

As I discussed last year, points are awarded for votes on bills introduced or co-sponsored that deal with:

  • Domestic and international hunger
  • Food safety
  • Food access
  • Farm subsidies
  • Animal welfare
  • Food and farm labor
  • Nutrition
  • Food additives
  • Food transparency
  • Local and regional food production
  • The environmental effects of food production

In the Senate, for example, there were just 5 bills to be voted on an 10 that were co-sponsored (but not voted on).  In the House, there were votes on 10 bills and 12 that were co-sponsored (no vote).  This leaves lots of room for improvement, even among the best.

The speakers explained to the kids that the Scorecard gave grades to members of Congress, just like they get, and took them through a discussion of thumbs up and thumbs down appraisals of legislators’ votes on key food issues.  Congress is doing a little better this year than last, they said, but still has a long way to go.

Those of us in New York are lucky.  Both of our Senators, Kirsten Gillbrand and Charles Schumer scored 100.

Here are my reports on the Scorecards from 2013 and 2014.  The Scorecard is a great first step in holding legislators accountable.

Nov 12 2015

Candidate Cruz and sugar policy

I”m feeling wonky this morning and can’t resist commenting on Senator Ted Cruz’s remarks about the US sugar program.

According to BuzzFeed,

while railing against “corporate welfare,” Cruz singled out subsidies for the sugar industry — a policy Rubio has consistently, and controversially, supported despite objections by free-market critics.

“Sugar farmers farm under roughly 0.2% of the farmland in America, and yet they give 40% of the lobbying money,” Cruz said in the debate. “That sort of corporate welfare is why we’re bankrupting our kids, and grandkids.”

Chase Purdy of Politico quoted Cruz as saying “I would end those subsidies to pay for defending this nation.”

Only that’s not how the sugar program works. Subsidies for U.S. sugar producers are provided by consumers, through artificially high prices, rather than by the government. Rather than direct subsidies, the sugar program involves limiting import and supporting prices, leading to U.S. sugar prices that are higher than sugar on the global market.

Politico also investigated “40% of the lobbying money.”

Forty percent of what? It’s not clear. But it’s hard to imagine any way to get there. Total spending on lobbying was $3.24 billion last year, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Agribusiness spent $127.5 million, or about 4 percent. The sugar cane and sugar beets industry? $9.6 million, or 0.3 percent.

I love writing about our arcane sugar policies, which do indeed involve quotas and tariffs, but not subsidies.  The USDA explains sugar policies on its website.  The important ones:

Sugarcane growers have their own explanation of how the system protects them.

And because politics makes strange bedfellows, the Heritage Foundation’s explains how US sugar policies gouge US consumers, costing us more money than sugar consumers anywhere else.

From a public health standpoint, higher prices for cane and beet sugar aren’t all that bad if they encourage people to consume less.

But on a per person basis, the increased cost isn’t all that much: on the order of $10 per capita per year.

This explains the lack of public opposition to the policies.  They are hard to notice at the grocery store.

It also explains why  food companies prefer using high fructose corn syrup.  It’s cheaper.  Corn production, after all, does get subsidies for crop insurance.  But then, we use corn to make ethanol.

Aren’t ag policies fun?  No wonder candidates don’t understand them.

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