Archive Hosted by the AFL-CIO

Tuesday Talk: Why the Farm Bill Matters

June 25, 2013 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

Unfortunately, the Farm Bill has been grabbing news headlines for all the wrong reasons the last few weeks. Its failure to pass the U.S. House last week was the first time a farm bill has been voted down in the House since 1973 and just the most recent set back. The failed House version drastically cut food and nutrition programs, but also without passage there is a loss in funding for food diversity, beginning farmer, and rural development initiatives.

The past bipartisan efforts and compromise that created farm bills appears gone. With a highly fractured House and stymied leadership, food and agriculture policy becomes the latest victim in a Congress unable to get its work done.

Regardless of where you live or what you do for a living, the Farm Bill is so encompassing it impacts all of us. Today from 11-12:30, Adam Warthesen, an organizer for the Land Stewardship Project, will join Tuesday Talk to answer your questions about what’s next for the Farm Bill.

Here’s a look at Adam’s latest blog on the issue.

What are your thoughts on the deep cuts to food and nutrition programs, crop insurance subsidies, support for food diversity, rural development initiatives, and beginning farmer programs?

If you can’t join us at 11, leave your questions for Adam.  

Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.


  • Mark Schultz says:

    June 25, 2013 at 7:19 am

    Long-term, how do LSP and other progressive farm and rural organizations plan to change the context in which these decisions about our farm and food system are being made?  There seems to be a lock on a pro-corporate view of things that is bad for people and the land—how do you plan to change that?

    • Adam Warthesen says:

      June 25, 2013 at 11:30 am

      No simple answer to that but one of the approaches LSP is taking is building stronger alliances with other organizations of a similar strip that can move member of congress.  We’re working collectively to build our power bases, identify campaigns, and re-think what is the terms of the debate that are blocking us from moving forward with better change that we believe farmers, citizens and the public want. 

      If an 2013, 2014 whatever year farm bill passes it will still fall short on so many fronts that we need to take a broader view of when and how to make change.  The context in which farm bills are written are against us in most cases and titled towards the connected and well-heeled.  An then you have a legislative process that looks to satisfy as many of those interests as possible with the limited resources.

  • Mike Downing says:

    June 25, 2013 at 7:46 am

    We need a real Farm Bill and a separate Food Stamp Bill so there can be a honest debate on the two very different subjects.

    • Lee Egerstrom says:

      June 25, 2013 at 10:06 am

      Mr. Downing brings up a point that has been debated since the early 1970s, if not longer. Unfortunately, Congressional and farm leaders have always thought keeping food,nutrition, forestry, environment, conservation, rural development and related research activities lumped into one huge omnibus bill was the best way to asssure passage. There is something in the farm bill for everyone, but in this age of anarchists, libertarians and the “me” generation, the old coalitions no longer hold sway. That rules out what Downing and so many of us would like ... an honest debate on all the programs and issues contained in the farm bill.

      • Adam Warthesen says:

        June 25, 2013 at 11:10 am

        This splitting concept has also cropped up again recently, mostly advocated by those very new age interests Lee mentions. I think with the trending demographics it be very difficult to advance any “farm” legislation, you just don’t have the investment and votes.  And if you look politically at who most strongly backs things like SNAP it’s metro centric D’s so I think there might be an attempt to further marginalize that block as well, much like we’re seeing now.  But maybe this is the new normal in policy where dysfunction rules the days.

  • John Hines says:

    June 25, 2013 at 8:42 am

    There is great concern about the national debt. Wouldn’t it be prudent for every percentage cut to food, nutrition, small farmers, and other social support programs there is the same percentage cut to corporate subsidies, tax loopholes, defense contracts, and government private sector contracts to pay down the national debt. Why aren’t these cuts being proposed across the board?

  • Carl Meyers says:

    June 25, 2013 at 9:09 am

    I am so disappointed that any congressman would vote to support a program that cuts food and nutrition programs for our citizens at a time that more people are hungry and need help and at the same time continues to help the biggest and wealthiest farmers that obviously do not need the handout that enables them to buy or rent the land away from the young or new farmers that are just starting out and are probably going to raise livestock that is a whole lot better for our health and in more humane than some of the factory farms.The focus should be to help anyone that needs help buying healthy food for themselves and their families and supporting the smallest farmers and tapering that help off as they get bigger and don’t need to have a handout to go buy more land and new pickups,4 wheelers and bigger machinery to farm more and more land that keeps new people from being able to get into farming.If they want to continue to get bigger fine but let them do it without our tax dollars subsidizing them.

    • Adam Warthesen says:

      June 25, 2013 at 11:02 am

      As we talk with farmers many share similar sentiments regarding the concern that existing subsidies leverage the abilities of the massive farm operators to get loans, finance equipment, guarantee crop revenue etc…. putting family farmers and yes, beginning farmers at a competitive disadvantage—picking winners and losers with public policy.  In recent years what has grown as the biggest driver (and growing in farm bill proposals) is federally subsidized crop insurance.  It’s the most expensive farm-orientated spending area at $95 billion to $100 billion over the next 10 years.

  • Dan Conner says:

    June 25, 2013 at 10:47 am

    I think Food Stamp aid needs to be increased rather than cut.  We can not harm the children, and out future.  As far as agricultural assistance is concerned…the original intent of agricultural assistance, whether it be soil bank, cash payments, etc. was to keep little farmers on the farm.  However, quite the reverse has happened.  Farm subsidies have bolstered the considerable earnings and profits of large farmers and boosted land prices to a point the small farmer could not afford to buy or rent the land.  Consequently, small farmers were forced out of business.

    I think it is important to aid small farmers and cut the subsidies, aid, and insurance for large farmers.  No farmer farming over 3000 acres needs any help.  They can make it by themselves.  The taxpayer shouldn’t be subsidizing farm wealth when they themselves struggle.  I have relatives farming thousands of acres.  They own thousands of acres, grain elevators, hotels, etc.  There is no reason the taxpayer should continue subsidizing this.

    Just like Food Stamps, farm aid needs to be needs tested.

    • Adam Warthesen says:

      June 25, 2013 at 11:58 am

      Good point on means testing.  Most farm programs have some form of that either income limits or straight payment limits—- albeit they are way to high right now.

      The spending area free of those limits is federally subsidized crop insurance, which is being hailed by policymakers and big agriculture advocates as the new safety net.  Hundreds of our members use crop insurance to manage risk on the farm and it’s an important tool that should have policy support and implications.  The question is at what degree and scale, like you mention.  Right now it’s unlimited—you can get hefty subsidies on as many acres as you can possibly operate no matter how much you make.  The current subsidy on average is 62 cents (paid for by taxpayers) for every $1 dollar of a farmers premium cost.  Plus the insurance companies get a generous cut for admin and operating costs to deliver the program.  So last year (2012) $16 billion was the price tag for crop insurance, a record.  The year before $9.4 billion also a record at the time. 

  • Adam Warthesen says:

    June 25, 2013 at 10:54 am

    More news today on the farm bill drama—- Reid says Senate will NOT pass another extension, which is what we’re living on now, dynamic put additional pressure on the U.S. House to produce a bill.

    • Colleen O'Connor Toberman says:

      June 25, 2013 at 11:27 am

      We’ve obviously seen that Congress needs pressure to get anything done (and even then they don’t get much done). I’m really worried, however, about potential SNAP cuts that could be included in the compromise. What the Senate has passed already cuts SNAP benefits to 17,000 Minnesota families and removes 8,000 state households from the free/reduced lunch program. The House proposal is even more damaging, so the idea of them rushing through this stuff is concerning. Of course, so is the idea of having no farm bill at all.

      • Joe says:

        June 25, 2013 at 11:34 am

        If we don’t re-extend the current legislation, what’s next? How do we get the House to pass something so Congress can begin the reconciliation process with the passed Senate version?

      • Adam Warthesen says:

        June 25, 2013 at 11:45 am

        I’ve been trying to get a better handle on what does no new farm bill mean, it’s something we actually just went through about 10 months ago, until an extension was folded in the fiscal cliff deal on Jan 1.

        Both SNAP and crop insurance would continue to operate as is with no cuts, both are also outside of the sequestration cuts as well.  For conservation it’s a mixed bag —some exist as is and some need reauthorization and $$.  There are two dozen good sustainable agriculture programs that remain stalled and then title I reverts back to the 1947 law.  This includes antiquated farm support mechanisms and does even include sugar, soybeans, peanuts to name a few.  And then we get to have the “dairy cliff” all over again.  How and if USDA would ever kick these old age pieces in place is hard to say, but the existing bill ends Sept, 30.

        The piece that many D’s say “broke the camel’s back” during debate last week was an amdt that put in place work requirements with SNAP (pushed by Cantor).  Add to that the divisive dairy debate and Goodlatte amdt to get rid of some supply management tools and the bill loses support,  I don’t know if the republican leadership is ready to make another run at the bill again with out these pieces but maybe.  I don’t seen them doubling down on SNAP cuts to pick up some the 62 republican’s that voted against the bill, cause the President would veto the bill and it be very hard to conference.

        • Colleen O'Connor Toberman says:

          June 25, 2013 at 11:48 am

          That’s helpful insight; thank you!

  • Joe says:

    June 25, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Adam, tell us about some of the important work you do around helping beginning farmers and food diversity, and how failure of this bill to pass impacts that.

    • Adam Warthesen says:

      June 25, 2013 at 11:21 am

      If you look at the farm bill there are really 4 big spending areas - SNAP, commodity programs, crop insurance and conservation—- they total $970 billion if you look at the CBO 10 spending projections.  There is a whole segment of what we characterize as innovated forward looking farm policy, these include beginning farmer investments, local foods infrastructure support, community food projects, organic research and support.  In total around 24 smaller programs usually competitive grants for farmers, groupings of farmers or community groups.  As it stands now all of these programs, passed in 2008 and which have run the last five years, are currently “stranded.”  Meaning they are on paper but no money exists.  They all ran out of resources Oct. 1 2012.  So no farm bill, no investments in the right things farm policy can support on the sustainable agriculture front.  We’re already a year into that awful condition.

  • Adam Warthesen says:

    June 25, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    U.S. House looks to be wary of any farm policy issues right now, heard yesterday they took FY 2014 Agriculture Appropriations off the weeks calendar which they planned to debate and vote on.  Apparently they are still establishing the rules for debate but not bringing the bill forward.

  • Adam Warthesen says:

    June 25, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Thanks to people who participated in tuesday talk and thanks to MN 2020 for picking the topic and offering the forum. 

    I’ll look to check back later today if people have any other thoughts, questions or perspectives.  If you want more on the farm bill and happenings make sure to check out the Land Stewardship Project’s website at go to our federal policy page for updates.  You can also join LSP.  We’re a membership MN based group and only as good as the people and farmers that make us who we are.


    • Lee Egerstrom says:

      June 25, 2013 at 4:12 pm

      Thanks, Adam, for leading such a lively exchange. Let me offer one more thought just to send people to Google looking up words such as “logic” and “compassion.” Can House members actually justify amendments and actions that with one hand cut food assistance for the needy, and then with the other hand cut rural development programs that would help lift people out of poverty? I don’t believe we’re looking at unintended consequences here. These actions had to be intended—intending to make the farm bill unpassable.

  • Al says:

    June 25, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Steve King injected a poison pill amendment that would criminalize farm worker whistleblowers. His version of the farm bill would make rural american farms havens for criminal activity.

  • Barb Sandell says:

    June 25, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    Colin Peterson is my representative. I believe he makes all the wrong decisions for the middle class and poor. He always chooses taking money from the poor to increase the coffers of the rich. Subsidies for big farms at the expense of hungry people makes me sick and angry. Doesn’t he know that he enriches himself by welfare for the rich? No never should this farm bill pass as is.