MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Farm policy takes a dramatic step backwards in the fiscal cliff deal brokered in Congress and soon to be signed into law by President Barack Obama. Rather than moving forward with much-needed financial and policy reform Congress and the Administration prioritized continued excessive commodity subsidies.
After expiration of the farm bill on October 1, 2012 and the inability of the U.S. House to deliver a bill for conference, pressure was on to include a farm bill extension in the ongoing fiscal cliff deal. But along with a few other plums, what ended up being the center point of the farm bill extension was continuation of the egregious commodity program known as direct payments – subsidies provided to producers with no regard for current production or market realities. The fiscal cliff deal and all agriculture policy within it was initiated by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Vice President Joe Biden.
Extending direct payments was unexpected since nearly everyone in agriculture has recognized the $5 billion a year in subsidies for this commodity program as outdated and in need of reform. There is no logical explanation for the extension of direct payments other than it panders to southern commodity growers in favor with Senator McConnell.
And while wasteful commodity spending was extended, frozen out of the late-breaking deal was virtually any support for new farmers, rural development and even disaster aid; despite the worst drought gripping our country in decades.
Another major failure was the decision not to remedy a funding hang-up that will prevent farmers from using the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) in the coming year. CSP is aimed at supporting farmers who are maintaining and improving soil and water conservation on their active farm land. The program has been popular in the Midwest and nationally with 50 million acres now enrolled by farmers and ranchers.
To add insult to injury, Congress gave the wealthiest Americans increased exemption from estate taxes, a measure that is not only fiscally imprudent, but will serve to keep more land locked up in the hands of the heirs of large landowners and decrease new farming opportunities.
All in all family farm agriculture loses in the fiscal cliff deal – reverting to the policies of old and disregarding the growth areas in this sector of our economy.
LSP continues to be committed to advancing a farm bill and agriculture policy that provides for prosperous rural communities, a healthy environment and more, not fewer opportunities in agriculture. In the coming year we will renew efforts to demand reform and accountability to wasteful and detrimental spending while supporting new farmer and conservation provisions.
Contact: Adam Warthesen, Land Stewardship Project, Federal Policy organizer, 612-722-6377
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