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2007 Farm Bill Debate Should Go Beyond “Who Gets How Much?” Discussions

Posted by Yvonne Siu on December 1st, 2006

IPC Chief Executive, Charlotte Hebebrand, has contributed the following commentary about the upcoming US Farm Bill debate in Congress:

The 2007 farm bill debate is already underway. Under Secretary Johanns’ leadership, the USDA has held “listening sessions” throughout the country and released some thoughtful farm bill analysis papers. When the 110th Congress convenes in 2007, we hope that the first farm bill hearings will be devoted to similar analysis, rather than immediately jumping into the “who gets how much” debate.

The next few months are an opportune time to think more broadly about what kind of agriculture and what kind of government support to agriculture make the most sense for US producers and consumers. IPC member Robert Thompson co-chaired the agriculture task force, which recently released a report sponsored by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs “Modernizing America’s Food and Farm Policy: Vision for a New Direction.” The report also argues for a broader examination of US agriculture and food policy. A number of other US IPC members and staff served on its task force (Robbin Johnson, M Ann Tutwiler, Tamara White). The report suggests that US government agricultural programs are no longer serving the nation’s interests. For instance, a continued emphasis on subsidies to producers of program commodities-which do provide some producers with increased income and protection from market fluctuations-have not succeeded in keeping smaller farmers on the land, have led to farm consolidation, and higher land prices.

The task force’s key recommendations are to end trade-distorting farm subsidies, like countercyclical payments, loan deficiency payments, and marketing loans, and replace them with potentially less-costly programs to help farmers weather the ups and downs of prices and yields. It lays out proposed changes in seven areas of food and agricultural policy, and argues that government support to agriculture be shifted to provide a blend of new non-trade distorting alternatives. The include:

  • revenue insurance;
  • transition measures; and
  • investments for research, conservation, and rural development, that support the entire agriculture sector.

Importantly, the report realizes that such a shift in US agricultural support will need to be gradual and cushioned with transition measures. It makes a strong case that US subsidy reform is good for US agriculture, and furthermore will facilitate a conclusion of the Doha Development Round, and in so doing, grow important markets for US food products in developing countries.

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