U.S.D.A. Secretary Mike Johanns sees it. A growing disparity in program support among commodities & a point that has been reiterated by several ag producers during the on-going Farm Bill Forum series.
JOHANNS: 92 percent of commodity program spending was paid on five crops--corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton and rice. The farmers who raise other crops - two thirds of all farmers - received little support from current farm programs.
And that is one of several indicators to Johanns that perhaps the new Farm Bill may need to take U.S. ag policy in a different direction. He acknowledges that the debate boils down to sticking with many of the existing policies that have supported U.S. ag for three-quarters of a century, or finding ways for farm policy to support our growers while adapting to changing market factors. One factor will be the U.S.'s increasing dependence on global trade and how world trade will be dictated via agreements, barriers, and recent World Trade Organization rulings that found parts of our trade policy illegal, meaning either a need to change or to face sanctions.
JOHANNS: We can sit back and watch as our farm policy is disassembled piece by piece or we can begin a discussion about how to craft farm policy that provides a low-risk, meaningful safety net for our farmers and ranchers.
But while trade will be an important component shaping up the next Farm Bill, Johanns says it must be our country that dictate the terms.
JOHANNS: We must use the WTO to force open markets for U.S. products. Let me be clear that the WTO will not write our next farm bill, but we must show leadership in the area of support program policy to gain market access in other countries.
The bottom line to Johanns is that perhaps the next Farm Bill needs to redefine how American agriculture defines the term, "safety net".
JOHANNS: A true safety net for all of agriculture is much more than subsidies. It is good farm policy that opens real and substantial market access. A true safety net is also good tax policy, trade policy, sanitary and phytosanitary policies, and investment in new markets. I believe in providing a safety net for farmers and ranchers, but it must be inclusive, predictable, and beyond challenge.