essay: House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill Lacks Real Payment Limit Reform

Their payment limit reform can be evaded; closing other loopholes is essential to stop the subsidized destruction of family farming

The farm bill being developed by the House Agriculture Committee is wrong on the two central issues.

It includes no meaningful payment limitation reform. Thus it would subsidize the destruction of family farming for another half decade. Second, it fails to invest in the future of rural America and its communities.

Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) has been forthright in describing his dislike for payment limitations while conceding that some reform is needed for the bill to pass the House of Representatives. Not surprisingly, the legislation he proposed created the illusion of reform but in reality changed little other than the paperwork.

Peterson proposed counting farm payments received by corporations against the limits of their individual shareholders. It is a needed reform, but it only works in concert with other essential reforms.

In the absence of additional reforms, mega farms would just switch to other loopholes that Peterson would not touch. They would divide the farm between spouses and create paper partnerships with uninvolved friends and family members.

Closing one gate but leaving two open doesn’t keep the hogs out of the trough. The nation’s largest farms would continue to receive unlimited subsidies to drive their neighbors out of business.

But even Peterson’s illusion of reform was scuttled in subcommittee for an extension of the 2002 farm bill.

That action reflects the contention of Peterson himself and most major farm and commodity groups that the current farm bill is working. Witness after witness representing those groups told a Nebraska hearing of the Senate Agriculture Committee last August that the current farm bill is working.

But when asked whether they would recommend a future in agriculture for their sons, the answer was no. As one said, “It would be easier for him to make money at a job in Lincoln.”

When the best we can do is to tell our sons and daughters to find jobs in the capitol city, the farm bill is not working.

Wasting federal funds on destroying rural America leaves little to invest in its future. While the committee bill does commit money to biofuels development, it invests nothing in other approaches to rural development. The committee continues the Value Added Producer Grants Program and creates a new microenterprise program to support small business development – but provides no funding for either.

Both of those programs and more could be fully funded with the money saved by closing loopholes in the existing payment limitation.

We spend enough on farm programs in this country to make things better. But it’s spent poorly. We can fix that without spending more, but we have to spend smarter. The farm bill taking shape in the House Agriculture Committee fails this most basic test.

Agree or disagree? Send comments to Chuck Hassebrook, chuckh@cfra.org or leave them here.

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