by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Farm-policy

Dec 4 2019

U.S. agriculture policies are a mess: trade, tariffs, payments

Food trade is a mess right now, but I keep trying to keep up with it.  Here are some recent items that caught my attention..

Trade deals dump U.S. junk foods in Central America.  The University of Buffalo sent out a press release about a study of the effects of the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) on dietary practices in that country.

Our analysis demonstrates that low-income consumers face increasing household food expenditures in a context of overall food price inflation, in addition to relatively higher price increases for healthy versus ultraprocessed foods. Neoliberal policies not only contribute to restructuring the availability and pricing of healthy food for low-income consumers, but they also exacerbate social inequality in the food system through corporate-controlled supply chains and farmer displacement.

Current tariff policies threaten nearly 1.5 million jobs and raise prices.   This is the conclusion of a 75-page report conducted by economic consulting firm BST Associates .

A new study commissioned by the Port of Los Angeles finds that U.S. tariffs put nearly 1.5 million American jobs and more than $185 billion in economic activity at risk nationwide – based solely on the impact of tariffs on cargo handled in the San Pedro Bay port complex….China is the primary target of the Trump administration’s tariff policy, and Chinese producers account for about half of the imports passing through San Pedro Bay. Chinese retaliatory tariffs affect China-bound American exports, and Chinese buyers account for nearly a third of the American products headed overseas out of LA and Long Beach…“With 25 percent fewer ship calls, 12 consecutive months of declining exports and now decreasing imports, we’re beginning to feel the far-reaching effects of the U.S.-China trade war…With the holiday season upon us, less cargo means fewer jobs for American workers.”

The USDA has released the second collection of payments compensating agriculture for losses due to the trade war with China.  This comes to more than $14 billion on this round.  This is on top of the previous $9 billion already paid.  All of this is way beyond what the Farm Bill authorizes in agricultural support.  Supporting Big Ag this way sets an expensive precedent.  And guess where the payments are going.  To “a bundle of states that are essential to his re-election chances,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

As for why those payments are needed:  USDA’s complicated-to-read economic report explains how farm debt is increasing and income decreasing.  As the Des Moines Register reports, Iowa’s farm debt reached $18.9 billion in the second quarter of 2019—the highest level in the nation.  USDA’s farm income and wealth statistics are here.

In the meantime, what’s happening to small farms?  They face extinction, according to Time Magazine.

A mess indeed.  Fixable?  Only with political will.  It’s hard to be optimistic at this point.

Sep 25 2019

Agriculture support payments go higher and higher

As I’ve confessed many times, I have a hard time getting my head around how US farm policy works in practice.  Fortunately, we have Politico to help.

Politico Morning Agriculture, its not-to-be-missed daily newsletter, has a few gems on payments to agricultural producers under current farm policies.

Last ten years: farm payments have averaged $11.5 billion per year (the peak was $13.8 billion in 2018)

2019: payments are predicted to exceed $21 billion. How?

  • $14.5 billion in direct trade aid for 2019 production.
  • $11.5 billion in direct payments

Politico notes: These payments contradict “Trump’s claims that he’s turned the farm economy around.”

It also notes that federal payments are likely to account for 27 percent of farmer income this year.

Is this reasonable agricultural policy?  No.

Don’t we need a better and more sustainable system?  Yes.

Aug 30 2019

Weekend reading and viewing: What the Democratic candidates have to say about food and agriculture

The New York Times carried a plea this week for more attention to food and nutrition policy from presidential candidates.

Civil Eats is tracking what they are saying.

So is Jerry Hagstrom, who has given permission to re-post these links from his Hagstrom Report, a daily newsletter about “agriculture news as it happens,” to which I gratefully subscribe (the Washington Post just ran a story about him).

Hagstrom collected agricultural position statements posted by candidates in Iowa.

Joe Biden — The Biden Plan for Rural America
Pete Buttigieg — A Commitment to America’s Heartland: Unleashing the Potential of Rural America
— Securing a Healthy Future for Rural America
John Delaney — Heartland Fair Deal
Kirsten Gillibrand — Rebuilding Rural America for Our Future
Kamala Harris (video) — Kamala Harris answers question on Rural America, July 4, 2019, Indianola, Iowa
Amy Klobuchar — Plan from the Heartland: Strengthening our Agricultural and Rural Communities
Tim Ryan — Improving Our Agriculture and Food System
Bernie Sanders — Revitalizing Rural America
Elizabeth Warren — My Plan to Invest in Rural America
— The Farm Economy
Donald Trump — Land and Agriculture: President Donald J. Trump Achievements

Videos of all the “soapbox” speeches, In alphabetical order

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
Former Vice President Joe Biden
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
Former Rep. John Delaney, D-Md.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.
Former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperWithdrew from race Thursday
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass.
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio
Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt.
Former Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa.
Hedge fund manager and activist Tom Steyer
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, Republican
Author Marianne Williamson
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang

Oct 2 2018

The farm bill expired. Now what?

Because our dysfunctional Congress did not pass the farm bill by midnight on Sunday, the 2014 bill has expired.

What does this mean?  Basically, the USDA hasn’t decided anything yet but a lot depends on the authorization status of each program (recall: the farm bill covers hundreds of programs).

  • Programs with permanent budget authorization—SNAP and Crop Insurance, for example—keep going.
  • Programs without authorization—the 40 or so “orphans”—terminate.
  • Programs authorized by the farm bills of 1938 and 1949 that have been updated and modernized revert back to the rules for those those years—certain dairy programs are especially affected.

The Congressional Research Service has a quick summary of the implications of the non-passage of the farm bill.

As for why Congress couldn’t get this bill passed, the big barriers are SNAP and conservation.

Recall that SNAP, formerly food stamps, is in the farm bill as a result of classic logrolling in the Johnson era.  Johnson got legislators from farm states to vote for food stamps in return for votes from urban legislators for farm supports.  At the time, the food stamp program was piloted in 40 counties and 3 cities with a total of under 400,000 participants.  Its cost was a fraction of the total farm bill cost.

In 2017, SNAP had more than 42 million participants at a total cost in benefits and administration of $68 billion—nearly 80% of the total cost of the bill.

Image result for snap percent of farm bill

SNAP looks like a honey pot to legislators looking for funds to make up for the tax cuts.  They have proposed additional work requirements.

These are sure to reduce enrollments.  Mathematica Policy Research says the House farm bill (HR 2 (115)) would cause 2 million households to lose SNAP eligibility.

Conservation is another issue.  Senators write that they cannot support a farm bill that does not promote conservation.

New to the farm bill?  Want to find out more?

Sep 25 2018

A glimmer into the stunning effects of our trade war with China

I find the details of trade policy almost impossible to understand (so many arcane rules, so many countries), and am grateful whenever I read something crystal clear.

Politico explains (behind a paywall, alas) how our trade war with China is hurting US soybean farmers, beginning with:

The good news: The European Union is buying lots more US soybeans than it used to.  Purchases are up 133% over last year, and now account for 52% of EU soybean imports.

The bad news: The EU is buying US soybeans because they are cheap.  Because China is not buying US soybeans, there is a glut; prices have fallen by 20%.

Estimates are that the EU will buy $2.5 billion this year.  But last year, China bought $12.3 billion in soybeans.  That’s nearly a $10 billion loss unless other buyers can be found (the estimate is a $7 billion loss).

China is now buying soybeans from Brazil, and at premium prices.

Here’s what the American Soybean Association has to say about all this.

One more indicator:  Politico also mentions an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal detailing how more than 2,500 US dairy farmers have resorted to GoFundMe campaigns to save their farms.

I wish we grew more food for people instead of food for animals or fuel for cars, and that our agricultural policy linked to health policy.

Maybe if we did that, we wouldn’t be in this situation.  But GoFundMe campaigns?

Maybe we just need real agricultural policies.

Sep 18 2018

What should be done to repopulate and reinvigorate rural America?

I’m catching up on reading and just came across the USDA’s annual report, Rural America at a Glance, 2017.

Rural areas, says the USDA, face challenges:

  • Outmigration
  • Increased adult mortality (opioid use)
  • Unemployment
  • Poverty

What does USDA suggest as the solution?  Broadband.

I’m for insisting that media companies get broadband into rural areas right now. (I have plenty of personal experience with the broadband dead zone between Whitney Point and Ithaca in upstate New York), but that’s not enough.

How about doing something to promote smaller scale, less industrial farming that would bring people back into those areas, and give them meaningful work.

Rural America is turning into America’s Third World.  That’s not good for anyone.

Jun 18 2018

Where are we on the farm bill?

Let’s start with FERN’s (Food and Agriculture Reporting Network) truly helpful, 7-minute video explaining what the Farm Bill is about.

And then there’s my overview from Politico.

With all that said, the House and Senate agriculture committees have each produced their own versions of the bill and we are waiting for the votes.  So these are preliminary, pending arguments, amendments, changes, and, eventually, reconciliation.

The big food movement issues are the SNAP and Horticulture (translation: fruit, vegetable, and organics) titles.  Browse around and see what Congress is and is not doing to link agricultural policy to health policy.

More to come when we see what gets passed.

May 28 2018

Memorial Day Food for Thought