US commodity farmers deal with acronyms on a daily basis simply
because their income is as much tied to government policies and programs
as it is to weather, soil, seeds, and rainfall. Over the past thirty
years, I’ve had to master the ins and outs of LDPs, CRP, CSP, CU acres,
DPs; I’ve had to adjust my memory as ASCS became FSA and SCS turned into
However, my head is spinning with all the proposals that have poured
from Ag state legislators and commodity organizations over the past
month. As the major commodities face real cuts ahead, they are
scrambling to create programs that may seem to cost less but preserve
the most favored status of corn, cotton, rice, soybeans, and wheat.
This alphabet soup of new proposals (along with their acronyms) is
mindboggling. We now have ADAP, ARRM, CRGP, CROP, FFSN, FOR, RMAF, and
STAX, plus some others in the mix (see key below). All are in some way,
revenue protection plans that are, according to K-State economists Art Barnaby and Troy Dumler, “focused on a risk management tool to cover shallow losses.”
(For more on why the alphabet soup is boiling over now see my colleague Ben’s take here.)
Okay, farmers don’t like weeds, and we are getting into them now. So
let’s cut to the chase. All of the players that feed from the subsidy
trough are rushing to get their two cents in before something moves
forward out of the Super Committee that will only need a yea or nay vote
Shallow loss revenue schemes mean that with as little as a ten
percent variation in either price or production, farmers will still
receive compensation paid for by taxpayers whether or not they need it.
This means that what appears to be $23 billion in cuts now could
disappear altogether if volatile markets or weather conditions impact
prices or production levels.
Even the American Farm Bureau sees the folly
in these schemes, saying that they could inspire extreme risk-taking.
“If much of the risk in farming is reduced, the government may be
encouraging producers to take on more risk than they would in response
to market signals alone. If a producer knows the government will cover
all but 5 or 10% of losses, he or she may be inclined to buy more
acreage than they can effectively manage and therefore bid up the price
And in the larger picture, we still have Farm Bill supports that
largely benefit a very narrow range of interests for crops that mostly
go to gas tanks, feed lots, blue jeans, and processed foods, and provide
incentives for highly industrialized, unsustainable, and unhealthy
modes of production.
If the Ag committees have their way, the next Farm Bill will be
authorized without any efforts to address trade distorting effects of
commodity support that hurt poor farmers, and will take us backwards on
efforts to conserve American farm land and protect our health.
Alphabet soup comes in a can, but we don’t need a canned farm bill.
We need agricultural policies that can pass basic democratic muster and
help serve up a just food system better equipped to ensure everyone has
access to the safe, nutritious, and affordable food they need.
Key: ADAP (Agriculture Disaster Assistance Program) by National Corn
Growers Association, ARRM (Aggregate Risk and Revenue Management) by
Senators Brown (D-OH), Thune (R-SD), Durbin (D-IL), and Lugar (R-IN),
CRGP (Crop Revenue Guarantee Program) by Senator Conrad (D-ND), CROP
(Crop Risk Options Plan) by Representative Neugebauer (R-TX), FFSN (Farm
Financial Safety Net) by a private crop insurance company, FOR
(Farmer-Owned Reserves) by National Farmers Union, RMAF (Risk Management
for America’s Farmers) by American Soybean Association, and STAX
(Stacked Income Protection Plan) by National Cotton Council.
This blog is written by Jim French. He is a farmer who works on agriculture policy issues for Oxfam America.