by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Farm-policy

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%.

May 11 2017

USDA’s fascinating food-and-agriculture charts

USDA researchers produce lots of data and sometimes summarize it all in handy charts.

Here are three examples:

  1.  Who makes money from food?  Food services—34.4 cents on every dollar.  Farmers?  8.6 cents on average.

 

2.  How sweet is the food supply?  Less than it was in 2000 but more than in 1990.  Most of this can be explained by the decline in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

 

3.  What happening with food assistance?  The peak in federal spending for all of the programs came a few years ago, but the amounts are now declining.    SNAP is the big one—about $75 billion last year.

Ag policy in snapshots.  More to come.

May 9 2017

Good news for sustainable farmers?

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, my go-to source for keeping up with farm policy, says there is good news in the administration’s spending bill.

You have to take wins where you find them.

And now let’s see what this Congress does with the farm bill.

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).

 

 

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