Sustainable task force backs global approach to farm policy

AMES, Iowa, posted February 10, 2005: As the debate looms over what should be included in the 2007 farm bill, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture suggests a global approach to formulate policies that govern food and agriculture.

These views are outlined in the draft of a new white paper, "Toward a Global Food and Agriculture Policy." The paper was written by a task force of agricultural economists and policy experts convened by the Leopold Center's Policy Initiative.

The task force includes Iowa State University economist and professor emeritus Neil Harl; University of Tennessee economist Daryll Ray; Traci Bruckner from the Center for Rural Affairs in Walthill, Nebraska; Mark Ritchie from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis; and former Iowa state senator Paul Johnson, who directed the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service during the 1990s. Leopold Center director Fred Kirschenmann and associate director Mike Duffy also joined the discussions that have taken place over the past year.

"It may be a cliché to say that agriculture is at a crossroads, but agriculture is at one of those life crossroads," says Duffy, who leads the Leopold Center's Policy Initiative and is an ISU extension economist. "And before we can have a meaningful debate, we must recognize that agriculture is entirely different from when the current farm programs were conceived."

The first national farm policies were implemented in the 1930s during the Depression. The country's desperate economic state, as well as decade-old economic problems in the agricultural sector, generated political support for a bold shift in farm policy. Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace was given unprecedented power to attempt to balance demand and supply, soil conservation legislation was passed, bills to provide credit for agriculture were enacted and rural electrification was given a huge boost.

The Leopold Center task force report outlines current U.S. price and income policies and the structural transformation that is occurring not only here but also in the rest of the world. The report also points to resource and conservation needs in a global agricultural economy, including energy as an essential component of agricultural policy.

"To be assured of any measure of success, a global food and agriculture policy should address several key policy problems," the report states. Areas examined

  • Third World economic development,
  • Food safety,
  • Food security,
  • Sharing germ plasm,
  • Conservation and the environment,
  • International trade,
  • Coping with excess supply, and
  • Other factors such as a dwindling supply of energy from conventional sources, water quality issues and infectious diseases.

"Our group doesn’t pretend to have the answers to craft a comprehensive global agricultural policy," Duffy said. "We only hope that the paper will get the discussion started. Like it or not, we are part of a global society and we need to start thinking and acting like one. Agriculture is the best place to start."

Duffy noted that the Leopold Center's Policy Initiative provides information for policy debates, but does not promote specific legislation.

He said the task force feels strongly about the need for a global policy, calling it "the challenge of this generation, perhaps the first generation to have the means and the inclination to lay the foundation for international support for a global food and agriculture policy."

The third draft of the white paper, "Toward a Global Food and Agriculture Policy," is available on the Leopold Center web site at:, or by calling the Leopold Center at (515) 294-3711.

Duffy also invites questions and comments on the draft of the report, which may be discussed at a future roundtable. Duffy can be reached at (515) 294-6160.

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