Thursday, January 23, 2014

As talks near end, Farm Bill comes full circle, to fundamental questions of national policy

UPDATE: Rogers reports that Farm Bill conferees have been told to be ready for a meeting Monday to adopt a compromise measure.

"Farm Bill negotiators are struggling with two final issues — dairy and payment limits — each of which takes Congress back full circle to the question asked when the whole debate began two years ago," writes David Rogers of Politico. "How far should government go to protect farmers from bad times — and, sometimes, themselves?"

House Speaker John Boehner has blocked a tentative House-Senate agreement "to manage future milk supplies to protect farmers’ margins. Corporate giants like Kraft Foods and Nestle back the speaker," Rogers reports, giving details of a workaround. "In the case of payment limits, it’s a very different set of players. But the question is again one of balancing government’s role and the risks of modern agriculture." Reformers want to require that recipients be "actively engaged" in farming, but defining that is proving difficult.

Some advocates of limiting payments "are often doing so in opposition to large farms, period. Others make their pitch on equity grounds since most farm subsidies now go to households earning well above the median income for the nation," Rogers notes. "Midwest moralists eager to impose their vision on the sometimes feudal land structure of Southern agriculture. But the debate affects a much wider swath of family farms, which still constitute 87 percent of the value of crop production in the U.S. And given the rise of corn and soybeans, North and South Dakota now rival Arkansas and Mississippi in the size of their own farm operations."

As usual, Rogers gives plenty of details without getting lost in them. Read his story.

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