John Hoblick: Farm bill designed to provide support for all citizens


Published: Sunday, June 30, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 28, 2013 at 7:38 p.m.

Last week's vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to reject the proposed 2013 farm bill prompted much commentary. But the underlying purpose of the bill was not always understood.

Parts of it have been exaggerated or characterized in extreme terms, giving little insight into what it provides for our entire society.

The farm bill is actually a collection of programs designed to build a continuum of support for all of our citizens. Its provisions involve poor households, the domestic agricultural enterprise that supplies us with food, fiber and renewal fuels and natural resource conservation.

Separate titles in the proposed bill target increased funding for food banks, supplemental food assistance for the elderly and fruit and vegetable purchases for elementary schools with high percentages of low-income students.

Eighty percent of the total farm bill budget is devoted to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other direct food assistance initiatives. According to Congressional staff sources, nearly 47 million citizens receive such aid. The budget for this section of bill is $743.7 billion over 10 years.

In response to the federal debt issue, the House leadership proposed a reduction in spending for SNAP and related programs by approximately 2.4 percent. A portion of the reduction cut advertising that promoted these programs.

The current proposal also addresses the U.S. agricultural infrastructure. Since the 1970s Congress has moved to eliminate most guaranteed payments for agricultural producers — an approach inherited from the 1930s — and replace them with market-oriented policies.

The 2013 bill continues this reform transition. It provides for a purchase of insurance to cover potential losses. The producer must suffer significant loss to receive any benefit. In other words, like anyone else in private business, no individual farm owner will be assured an income.

Other titles in the proposed bill direct funding for projects that enhance water conservation and foster rural development.

Money earmarked for farm programs, including vital agricultural research and disaster payments, was reduced by more than 15 percent.

Our farmers and ranchers must confront an array of challenges — from extreme weather to pests and disease to competition from cheap, largely unregulated imports. The farm bill's insurance coverage gives them a way of protecting themselves from such risks without calling upon taxpayers to underwrite a guaranteed income. The public expense for administering this coverage is minimal compared to the farm commodity programs of past decades.

Risk management helps to keep the retail price of food in the U.S. far below that paid by residents in most foreign nations. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average household in this country spends less than 15 percent of its income for food each year.

But agricultural producers provide more than food. They are the first caretakers of our natural resources, maintaining greenspace, wildlife habitat and freshwater recharge areas throughout our nation.

In Florida farms and ranches are mainstays of our economy. They generate an economic impact of more than $100 billion annually.

During the past five years of national recession agricultural enterprise has helped to preserve the economic stability and viability of communities across our state.

Congress has wisely adopted farm bills periodically for more than 60 years to construct a safety net for citizens in need, for children, for domestic food production and for natural resource protection. This safety net benefits everyone.

We must have a collaborative, bipartisan effort to preserve it. The current farm bill has been extended until September 30.

I sincerely hope that the Congress can craft a new bill worthy of its grand purpose. I ask for your goodwill in making this process a success.

John Hoblick is president of Florida Farm Bureau.

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