by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Farm-policy

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 29 2017

Good news about farming!

How about some good news for a change?

I.  Politico reports on on a new report, Feeding the Economy, on the importance of agriculture for the US economy (you can search the site for your own state and congressional district).

The findings are impressive:

As Politico puts it, “more than a fifth of the U.S. economy and a quarter of American jobs are either directly or indirectly tied to the food and agriculture sectors.”

That’s more than 43 million jobs and $1.9 trillion in wages, and $894 billion in taxes.  That’s $6.7 trillion for the impact..

Who paid for the study?  22 food and agriculture groups, including the Corn Refiners Association, the American Bakers Association and the United Fresh Produce Association.

II.  The Washington Post writes:

For only the second time in the last century, the number of farmers under 35 years old is increasing, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest Census of Agriculture. Sixty-nine percent of the surveyed young farmers had college degrees — significantly higher than the general population.

The implications for public policy are obvious: promote farming opportunities for young people.

III.  Here’s what The National Young Farmers Coalition says in its new report:

Its agenda:

Now, to make that happen…

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.

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.

Aug 8 2017

What should the farm bill really look like and do?

Representative Earl Blumenauer (Dem-OR), whose portfolio addresses many issues of concern to his constituents, is doing something particularly courageous: taking on the farm bill.

As part of a “sing your own farm bill” initiative, he has produced Growing Opportunities: Reforming the Farm Bill for Every American.

This should be required reading for anyone interested in trying to understand the farm bill and get it to do more to promote agricultural systems that improve health, the conditions of everyone who works in it, and protect the environment.

Here’s how it starts:

The Farm Bill is the most important yet underappreciated piece of federal legislation Congress regularly
considers. Hopelessly complex, it sets national priorities for federal investment while undermining human
health, nutrition, carbon reduction, economic development, land conservation, and animal welfare. Even
the name is a lost opportunity. At a minimum, it should be called the Food and Farm Bill.
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.

Check out its guiding principles and let’s get to work.

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Jul 28 2017

Weekend Reading: Urban Food Policy

The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES) has issued a new report with five case studies on successful urban food policy.  lead authors are Corinna Hawkes and Jess Halliday.

the five:

  • Belo Horizonte—food security
  • Nairobi—urban agriculture
  • Amsterdam—healthy weight
  • Golden Horseshoe (Ontario, Canada)—food and farming
  • Detroit—urban agriculture

It’s wonderfully written and illustrated.

And it is highly instructive about what has to be in place to put these policies in action (the report calls them enablers).

You want a food policy in your town?  This will help.

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.

May 18 2017

U.S. agriculture at a glance: USDA’s charts

USDA’s charts make it easy to understand basic aspects of farming in the United States.  This one covers about 175 years of American history.   The number of farms fell fast after the end of World War II and is still declining, while the size of farms increased.

Where are the jobs in the food and agriculture industries?  Mostly in food and beverage service and stores.

Farming?  A mere 1.4%.

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