Farm Policy 101: Washington falling short

Grassley-090507-18363- 0032By U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley


As the spring planting season fetches long days in the tractor, farmers across Iowa already have invested an abundance of time and money in the new crop before sowing the first seed into the ground. Key management decisions are considered before the fieldwork begins. New farm bill programs, production costs, lines of credit, crop rotations, conservation practices, seed varieties and commodity prices factor into the mix.

No matter how many equipment repairs and planted acres a farmer squeezes into his workday, some things are beyond his control. The cyclical nature of supply and demand and the whims of Mother Nature have outsized roles in the success or failure of a farmer’s expectations for the season.

Public policy also affects how food gets from farm to fork. Washington plays an influential role in helping to keep American agriculture a prized breadbasket for the nation and a growing domestic fuel contributor to the U.S. economy. Policymakers can help set the table for prosperity in Rural America by producing farm, tax, trade and regulatory policies that appreciate how farmers contribute to the nation’s food, energy and national security.  It’s in America’s best interest to encourage new and next generations of farmers and to carry on this exceptional livelihood and way of life.

With fewer farmers producing the food that feeds and helps fuel a growing population, it is more important than ever to educate federal lawmakers and regulators how public policy will impact the sustainability of American agriculture for generations to come.  That’s why I work for as long as it takes to make sure the policies that are cooked up in Washington don’t mess up what’s best for the families and farmers making their living off the land in Rural America.

Consider just a few recent cases of bureaucratic bumbling that affect American agriculture.

• The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to secure regulatory authority over water bodies that have at best a tangential link to “navigable” waterways, such as isolated ponds, dry streambeds or drainage ditches.  If approved, would farmers need costly and time consuming permits before making repairs or improvements in these areas?  This EPA power grab is causing a lot of unnecessary uncertainty. It’s about as helpful as plowing water.

• The USDA is taking baby steps to define a farmer, or more specifically, who is “actively engaged” in farming to qualify for farm payments. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I have worked relentlessly to make the federal safety net a defensible public policy that provides a cushion for small and mid-sized farmers to help weather the lean years. So when only 10 percent of farmers collect nearly 75 percent of federal farm payments, that’s an indefensible imbalance. It makes it a lot harder for taxpayers to swallow a farm safety net that delivers a lopsided distribution of payments that drives up land prices and puts the next generation of farmers at a big disadvantage to get started farming. During consideration of the 2014 farm bill, I worked to tighten payment limits and close a federal loophole that essentially allows for general partnerships to collect a half-billion dollars from the USDA each year. People who claim to manage the same farm are getting sizable farm payments due to a loose definition of “actively engaged” in farming. In just one example, an 11 person-partnership, some of whom had meager involvement in the farm’s business affairs, collected $1 million in 2001, according to an audit by the Government Accountability Office.  Only in Washington do people have a tough time nailing down exactly who is a farmer.

• The USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are considering an unpalatable idea that would remove lean red meat from new dietary food guidelines. The recommendation made by a federal advisory panel ignores scientific nutrition standards. It also would harm the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers who raise livestock to provide high-protein, lean red meat for consumers and influence what’s served (or not served) in the center of the lunch tray for millions of school kids who participate in the federal school nutrition programs. I joined a bipartisan letter with 29 senators calling upon the USDA and HHS to include lean red meat in the 2015 dietary guidelines and to request an extension of the 45-day comment period to allow Americans to weigh-in on the dubious recommendations.

Schooling the federal bureaucracy on farm policy 101 requires a good bit of tenacity. I’ll keep working to get the job done right.