| 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 Clayton Yeutter.
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 disputes.
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 practices.
Another tactic conservative groups may use is to try and shift
some of the money to rural development and programs for infrastructure
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
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
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; firstname.lastname@example.org;
Daryll Ray's column is written with the research and assistance
of Harwood D. Schaffer, Research Associate with APAC.