“What is the Food, Conservation and Energy Act?”

Author: Donna Gonzalez | Posted: 4/12/2012
April 2012
If I randomly asked people if they have ever heard of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act or what it entails, I doubt if too many would have a clue? On the other hand, if I said it is also known as the 2008 “Farm Bill,” they would probably have some mental image of what they think the bill is about or what it does. 

Over the past 50 years, the so-called Farm Bill has been called many things. For instance, in 1965 it was titled the Food and Agricultural Act. In 1985, it was called the Food Security Act. By 1990, it had transitioned into the Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act. One would be hard pressed to find the word “Farm” anywhere in the bill’s title. Yet, at the end of the day, it is most commonly referred to as the Farm Bill.

Also, let’s examine it from a budget outlay perspective. To paraphrase a USDA spokesperson who addressed the 2012 NAEDA Fly-In held March 21-22 in Washington, D.C., approximately $900 billion will be spent on all the various titles of the bill over a 10-year period. Of that amount, over 70% is dedicated to food and nutrition programs such as food stamps, etc. The remaining 30%, or less, are divided between commodity programs and conservation programs that actually are aimed toward farmers and other landowners.

However, it is all too common for the popular press to lump all these payments together as “subsidies” to farmers. It is true, of course, that farmers do benefit from any additional food purchases made by consumers, whether through food stamps or not, but it is a far cry from a dollar-for-dollar direct payment to farmers.

Congress is now preparing to pass another so-called Farm Bill in 2012 or shortly thereafter. Budget considerations will be a key factor in determining the fate of commodity programs and direct payments to farmers in the new Farm Bill. Virtually everyone I spoke with during our Fly-In predicts that any direct payments to farmers are GONE! That was the 100% consensus of people in Congress, the congressional staff, USDA policy personnel and other organizations. Instead, more emphasis will be placed on crop insurance and other programs that cover some losses when the weather or markets do turn against farmers.

As often happens, you are probably wondering what is this guy’s point? Actually, I have several points. First, the Farm Bill was one of four major priorities we asked Fly-In attendees to discuss with their elected officials. Several speakers also made reference to this particular piece of legislation in their presentations.

Secondly, it has become evident that the funding for the Farm Bill will be reduced. The question now becomes, what will be cut? More than likely, any cuts will be heavily weighted towards reducing direct payments to farmers versus those going to food programs targeting consumers. Even other titles of the bill, particularly those dealing with education, conservation and trade, are less likely to face the budget ax.
My final point is: It is a misnomer and a public relations nightmare to continue calling this legislation the Farm Bill! Very little of the legislation today, and even less in the future, is going to benefit farmers. Nearly every so-called Farm Bill in the past 50 years has had the word “Food” in the title. The vast majority of payments related to the bill go to feed people through various food programs.

Why don’t we start referring to the legislation by the congressional-given name? Better yet, we could shorten the name to the “Food Assistance” or “Consumer Nutrition” bill or some other clever name that depicts where the majority of emphasis and benefit is really directed? I, for one, would support an effort to change the moniker for this legislation. What about you?

And, That’s The Way I See It!

PAUL KINDINGER is president/CEO of the North American Equipment Dealers Association. The association provides educational, legal, legislative and financial services to approximately 5,500 retail agricultural, construction, large property/rural lifestyle and outdoor power equipment dealers in the United States and Canada.