| Posted May 10, 2005:
"Feedstuffs" released an article by Sally Schuff that
identified a number of non-traditional special interests that
are planning on being a part of the 2007 Farm bill debate. The
article included an interview with former Secretary of Agriculture
For the past several years, a growing number of environmental
groups have expressed interest in farm legislation. One of
the clearest examples of this interest comes from the Environmental
Working Group, an organization that publishes a list of the
government payments that each farmer receives. They see farm
programs as a pot of money that can be transformed into environmental
programs to protect the country's land, water, and air.
Another player from the environmental sector is the American
Farmland Trust, a group that Schuff says, "has a reform
agenda - a move from traditional crop subsidies to new, farmer-friendly
environmental programs. One of the arguments that the environmental
lobby is making is that payments for environmental programs
will be compliant with World Trade Organization rules while
the existing programs will likely trigger continued trade
One of the players that Schuff cites is not really a new
player. Conservative organizations like the Cato Institute
have long opposed farm programs as relic of the New Deal.
This time it appears that they will align themselves with
the environmental lobbyists. If they can't get rid of farm
payments outright, the next best option, from their perspective,
will be to convert the payments to payments for environmental
Another tactic conservative groups may use is to try and
shift some of the money to rural development and programs
for infrastructure repair.
One of the truly new players in the debate has little to
say about converting farm payments to environmental and rural
development programs, but is emphatic about eliminating government
farm programs that restrict free trade. This group is coalescing
around the leadership of "Yum!, the Louisville, Kentucky.-based
owner of KFC [Kentucky Fried Chicken], Pizza Hut, Taco Bell,
and Long John Silver's. The goal of this new group is the
freeing up of global trade and the removal of various impediments
to that process. They see current farm programs as one of
the impediments that reduces market access.
Former Agriculture Secretary Clayton Yeutter is quoted as
recalling a conversation with a fast-foods coalition member:
"If we need cheese in China, we want to buy it at whatever
is the most feasible location."
When farm programs first came into existence, they were primarily
the concern of the 25% of US residents who lived on farms
and the implement manufacturers who hoped to sell equipment
to those farmers. The responsibility of developing a farm
bill fell to those members of Congress who identified themselves
a part of the Farm Block.
Over time, interest in farm programs expanded beyond this
initial group to include consumers, food stamp recipients,
seed and chemical companies as well as the processors and
transporters of grains and feeds. It is this last group that
made itself known in the writing of the 1996 Farm Bill - a
bill that represents the first major shift away from traditional
farm programs. As farmers continue to become a smaller portion
of the US population the shift in the identity of the players
in the farm bill debate is not surprising.
We would argue that each of the participants in the debate
need to remember that the original farm bills were not developed
to throw money at farmers. They came into being because of
the structure of agricultural markets. If these unique characteristics
of crop agriculture are ignored we will find ourselves in
the same position we found ourselves in 1998 - farm income
will be at dangerously low levels and farmers will be making
appeals to their Congressional representatives.
Daryll E. Ray holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence
in Agricultural Policy, Institute of Agriculture, University
of Tennessee, and is the Director of UT's Agricultural Policy
Analysis Center (APAC). (865) 974-7407; Fax: (865) 974-7298;
Daryll Ray's column is written with the research and assistance
of Harwood D. Schaffer, Research Associate with APAC.