The Farm Bill Passes… Sadly

February 5th, 2014 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on The Farm Bill Passes… Sadly

farmImage3Yesterday, the Farm Bill was finally passed in the U.S. Senate Chamber. The headline that will be ubiquitous throughout the media will read something like this:

The Senate passed a farm bill on Tuesday that ends direct subsidies for farmers and trims $90 a month from food stamps for 850,000.

What’s conspicuously missing from the Bill, is perhaps the most critical and costly issue to our farming and food supply system – dealing with climate change. No industry is more greatly impacted by climate change than the farming industry… and yet, virtually no mention of it in the Farm Bill.

With increasing climate instability – more floods and droughts, driven by steadily increasing average temperatures, we need a farm policy that will help farmers and food artisans deal with weather extremes. Unfortunately the bill does nothing to guide us through these changing times of climate. Instead, the heated debate in the halls of Congress focused on how much to cut food aid for poor people, by cutting $9 billion over the next decade from the SNAP Program.

Perhaps the most insidious aspect of the Bill is the one area where both Democrats and Republicans seem to happily join hands together on – and that’s the repeal of 4.5 billion in annual direct cash payments, a long disfavored policy where farmers received a fixed amount of money for every acre they owned, regardless of whether it was planted. While this sounds great, the irony is that they found a way to ensure that these savings will end up right back in the pocket of agribusiness. Here’s how it works:

The Farm Bill will expand subsidies for crop insurance, which looks like a private-sector program but which actually hands over virtually the same amount of taxpayer money to farmers, mostly wealthy ones, as the old direct payment program. What’s more, the shift from direct payments to crop insurance ensures that those handouts can be distributed in a hidden, more politically palatable way, making it more difficult to ever dislodge them.

So the farm bill, far from “reforming” the process of well-heeled agribusinesses living off corporate welfare, actually locks that support in place through misdirection. It’s easier to denounce a farmer getting paid not to plant their field than to decry an overly generous insurance payout.

At this point it seems like we need a new name for the Farm Bill, as really only 20% of the money allocated for this bill actually pertains to agriculture, and this at a time when our rapidly changing climate will most likely create havoc with our food supply. We are not now prepared for what’s to come, and if we continue with this type of “weak tea” legislation, we will not be prepared in the future as floods, devastating heat, and droughts create instability with our food supply.

And this is not some kind of crazy, scary prediction by an unknown blogger… unless of course, we consider the analysis and reports from over 95% of climate scientists to be a sham, which amazingly, quite a few of our elected leaders do.

This is why we can’t have nice things.