by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Farm-bill

Jan 17 2018

Crop insurance, like much else these days, goes to the rich

Crop insurance is the big issue in the forthcoming farm bill.  The American Enterprise Institute doesn’t like it much, and for good reason.  On the theory that one picture is worth a thousand words, here’s why

The blue bars are the percentages of total farm bill subsidies.  The yellow bars are subsidies per acre.  If you thought that subsidies helped small or medium farms, think again.

Whether you agree with the AEI or not, its American Boondoggle reports are always worth reading for their remarkably clear explanation of the hugely complicated farm bill issues.

This one, for example, tells you everything you need to know about how crop insurance really works—and at taxpayer expense.

Nov 24 2017

Farm bill #5: EWG, NASC, and other resources

I.  The Environmental Working Group

It just released its farm subsidy database for 2015 and 2016.

The new information reflects the demands of the 2014 farm bill.

The findings:

  • $32.2 billion is the total cost of federal crop insurance, disaster, and conservation programs.
  • $14.5 billion of this went mainly to growers of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice.
  • $12 billion went to crop insurance subsidies.
  • $3.7 billion went for conservation.
  • $2 billion went to disaster assistance.
  • Deline Farms Partnership was the #1 recipient with $4 million in commodity subsidies.
  • The Navajo Agricultural Products Industry was #2 with $2.3 million.

The website is interactive.  You can click on states and counties.

Tomkins County, New York, where Ithaca is, got $25 million in federal subsidies.

It’s fun. Check it out.

EWG also released it’s Double-Dipping report on how taxpayers are subsidizing farmers twice for crop losses.

II. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)

It organized dozens of farm organizations to sign a letter calling for greater investment in agriculture through the farm bill education-and-research title.

It also released An Agenda for the 2018 Farm Bill.  This focuses on investing in:

  • Beginning farmers and ranchers
  • Conservation
  • Regional food economies
  • Plant research
  • Risk management

III.  Representative Chellie Pingree (Dem-Maine) is also working on farm bill issues.  

Her particular focus is the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act:

  • Expands access to farmland
  • Ensures equitable access to financial capital and federal crop insurance
  • Encourages commitment to conservation and stewardship

Many people are working on farm bill reform.  It needs it.

Nov 23 2017

Farm bill #4: Happy Thanksgiving

Image result for thanksgiving farm bill

Nov 22 2017

Farm Bill #3: Philip Brasher’s guide

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Nov 21 2017

Farm Bill #2: Unlikely allies

Politics makes strange bedfellows, as documented by Politico in a report on the coalition of unlikely allies working to reform the farm bill.

Let me start with my favorite: The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), not exactly a bastion of radical thought.  The AEI puts out a series of thoughtful position papers, remarkable for their clarity, on a range of farm bill issues: Agriculture in Disarray.

To date, 6 have been published.

You may not agree with these American Boondoggle viewpoints, but you will have a good chance of understanding what the arguments are about.

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Nov 20 2017

Farm Bill #1: Earl Blumenauer’s bill

It’s Thanksgiving week and I can’t think of a better time to talk about the farm bill.

My starting place for thinking about this topic is a short article I wrote for Politico about the previous bill: The farm bill drove me insane.

Now, House member Earl Blumenauer (Dem-Oregon) has come up with an alternative: the Food and Farm Act.  Here’s how he explains it to Civil Eats.

n a video, he calls for reform and for fixing the existing farm bill.

He explains the philosophy behind his proposals in Growing Opportunities: Reforming the Farm Bill for Every American

Not only is the Farm Bill costly and expensive, its resources are misdirected. The legislation gives too much
to the wrong people to grow the wrong food in the wrong places. This misallocation is tragic because of the
power and reach of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs authorized by this legislation
every five years. The USDA is the only agency in the federal government that can build a community from
the ground up, and tackle issues like housing and infrastructure as well as all aspects of America’s farms and
ranches.

To make this even easier, his campaign put together a small handbook in cartoon format: The Fight for Food: Why You Deserve a Better Farm Bill.  This is a terrific beginner’s guide, the best way I’ve ever seen to get started.

The main difficulty with the farm bill for everyone other than a lobbyist is that the issues get wonky right away.  Even the handout on  the highlights of Blumenauer’s bill has lots of wonky details and requires close attention.

I particularly like what he proposes as Title IX: Regional Food Systems (my translations):

  • Identifies the benefits
  • Expands federal investment
  • Increases funding for specialty crops (USDA-speak for fruits and vegetables)
  • Invests in local and regional systems infrastructure
  • Funds local and regional meat processing
  • Increases transparency of USDA’s grant process
  • Protects small farmers from retaliation

Idealistic?  Yes!

Possible?  Maybe, if we can ever get the political will.

Here’s something positive to support.  Get to work!

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Sep 20 2017

Crop insurance: some thoughts

When I taught a course on the farm bill some years ago, students were stunned by how crop insurance works.  They wondered how they could break into that business.

Sixteen insurance companies write policies for farmers.  The federal government pays 62% of the premiums to the tune of about $8 billion per year.  Farmers pay 38%.

The lucky insurance companies make out like bandits under this system—an average rate of return of 24.8%.  The Government Accountability Office, no surprise, thinks this exceeds market rates and needs to be readjusted.

Farmers need crop insurance, no question.

But in the wake of Hurricane Irma, we learned that farmers who grow fruits, vegetables, and nuts—in USDA jargon, “specialty crops”—feel that they cannot afford it.

Historically, the program has covered corn, soybean, and other large-scale commodities—about 85% of such acres are covered.

But crop insurance now covers 73% of fruit and tree nut acreage but only 32% percent of vegetable crops, accounting for 8% of premiums.

According to a Risk Management report on specialty crops, insurance covers virtually all of Florida’s sugarcane, cotton, and citrus, but only about half of fresh tomatoes, sweet corn, and bell peppers, and none of fresh beans.

Obviously, plenty is wrong with the crop insurance program.  Will the 2018 farm bill do anything to fix it?

According to Politico Pro Agriculture, Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters that the he favors restructuring the program but that the crop insurance program should not promise farmers profitability.

What about profitability for the crop insurers?  The GAO recommends reducing this industry’s profits to market rates.  That should leave plenty of money to help specialty crop farmers.

Jun 9 2017

Weekend reading: budgetary effects on the farm bill and rural America

When the Administration’s released its “America First” budget, Senator Debbie Stabenow (Dem-MI) issued two Infographics

The first is on effects on the 2018 farm bill. 

 

The second is how the proposed budget will affect rural America.

Stabenow is the ranking member of the Senate Agricultural Committee.

Her Infographics are easy to read and worth a look.  They take vast amounts of complicated material and boil it down to key facts.  Their conclusions:

  • This budget leaves America’s small towns and rural communities behind.
  • This budget would make a 5-year farm bill impossible to pass.

I hope she is right about the second one.

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