It is approximately the halfway point of U.S.D.A.'s Farm Bill Forum series. More Farm Bill Forums, including at least one more for the Pacific Northwest, are expected between now and the end of the year. But considering the number of Forums already held, and how many of those U.S.D.A. Secretary Mike Johanns have personally hosted, he has begun to notice patterns in the comments made by producers across the land. He shared some of those at recent luncheon in Washington D.C. First, he clarified that he is several months away from making specific Farm Bill proposal to Congress, who will be the final authors of the measure. But having said all that, Johanns is getting the impression that Farm Bill Forum participants are strongly behind rural development and conservation programs, and want free but yet fair trade with other nations. However, the Secretary says that doesn't mean there aren't concerns about current Farm Bill policy.
JOHANNS: On a broader scale, concerns have been expressed about farm payments being capitalized into increased land values, farm program support being directed toward one third of all producers, and the greatest benefits going to the largest farms.
Johanns says the mixed response on the direction of farm support payments vary by region. But in his view, Johanns believes agriculture is at a crossroads when it comes to the current farm support payment system &either stay the course for a system created seventy-five years ago under different economic conditions, or go a different direction. For example, many young farmers or potential young farmers who want to enter agriculture have told Johanns and U.S.D.A. officials they are currently financially unable to do so because of high land values and just as high cash rent.
JOHANNS: Many have echoed those remarks and raised the issue that when farm support programs are tied to production, they translate into more land being acquired to continually produce more crops in an effort to obtain more support.
And that leads to another message coming out of the Farm Bill Forums, small and minority producers seem to be ignored when it comes to price support payments, with that money instead going to large operations. Johanns says those producers have a case. He points out that the largest three per cent of farm operations receive thirty per cent of farm support payments. And when you add medium sized farms, operations bringing in a quarter of a million dollars in sales annually, that still only constitutes less than eight per cent of total farm operations in the U.S., which receive fifty per cent of all farm support payments. More Farm Bill Forum observations are shared in our next program.