By CYNDIE SIREKIS
For the Capital Press
A thriving agricultural economy benefits all Americans. Achieving this depends on a sound farm bill. Among the plethora of federal statutes that govern the nation, the farm bill stands out as a "Lone Ranger" that helps farmers and ranchers deal with the risks that threaten their ability to produce the food, fiber and fuel we all need.
Likewise, as the first (and to date, only) agricultural organization to offer a comprehensive farm bill proposal this year, Farm Bureau stands out as sort of a Lone Ranger, too.
As the agriculture committees in Congress began drafting a 2013 Farm Bill against a backdrop of decreasing government funding, Farm Bureau put forward a proposal that is financially responsible, provides a measure of equity across crop sectors and helps farmers deal with the weather and market risks they face.
Strengthening crop insurance and offering farmers a choice of program options to complete their "safety net" are key provisions Farm Bureau supports in the new bill. Farm Bureau also supports providing programs that encourage farmers to follow market signals rather than make planting decisions based on government payments.
Closely related to this, some may find it surprising that U.S. farmers already receive a higher percentage of their gross income from the marketplace rather than from government supports, compared to other nations. In fact, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in the U.S., just 8 percent of gross farm income comes from government support, compared to 14 percent in Canada, 18 percent in the European Union, 52 percent in Japan and 53 percent in South Korea.
Despite the popular saying, "reality bites," Farm Bureau's farm bill proposal recognizes the budgetary environment we're facing as a nation, both today and tomorrow.
For some time, agriculture has been singled out by congressional leaders for budget cuts. Whether agriculture likes it or not, Congress has sent a clear message that the federal dollars that were there in the past are simply not going to be there tomorrow.
Farmers and ranchers have been listening and realize that they should not expect to receive the same level of government support that they did in the past -- even as recently as three or four years ago.
The farm bill proposal introduced by Farm Bureau was developed in recognition of this reality and makes every effort to try to use the limited resources that are available in the best way possible. Farm Bureau's farm bill proposal is budget-responsible. Yet it also seeks to protect the nation's food producers by advocating for a meaningful safety net, one that provides risk management tools for a broad range of farmers, from row crop to fruit and vegetable growers.
An advantage here is that Farm Bureau is a general farm organization, stretching across all of agriculture. Congressional leaders know that Farm Bureau's farm bill proposal meets the policy objectives outlined by its grassroots leaders -- farmers and ranchers who raise an array of crops and livestock around the nation.
In order for farmers and ranchers -- our nation's food producers -- to have the certainty they need for farm financing and planning, it's imperative that Congress step up to the plate and enact a new farm bill before the current one expires in September.
Cyndie Sirekis is director of news services at the American Farm Bureau Federation.