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November 7, 2012

PUBLIC FORUM: Farm Bill covers more than farms

The Farm Bill hasn’t been passed. That just means no more free lunches for farmers, right?

The Farm Bill has 15 titles. It’s about soil conservation. It’s about research. It’s about energy. It’s about world trade. It’s about crop insurance and disaster insurance for years like the drought of 2012.

Actually, the Farm Bill does have much to do with free lunches but not many for farmers.

How much does the Farm Bill cost?

The 2008 Farm Bill approved $300 billion in mandatory spending (this figure does not include discretionary spending measures that are approved separately) for the five-year term of the Farm Bill. About two-thirds (67 percent) of the proposed spending measures were allocated toward nutrition, followed by agricultural subsidies (15 percent), conservation (9 percent), and crop insurance (8 percent). The remaining 3 percent included credit, rural development, research, forestry, energy, livestock, and horticulture/organic agriculture.

In 2010 alone, approximately 80 percent of all spending from the Farm Bill went toward domestic food assistance programs. In 2010, SNAP benefits totaled $64.7 billion, up from $34.6 billion in 2008.  The increased funding for SNAP has paralleled its skyrocketing enrollment since the beginning of the current economic recession.

Estimated spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (food stamps) over the five-year period is significantly higher than originally projected in 2008 ($188.9 billion of the estimated $300 billion in 2008, compared to the more current estimate of $314.3 billion), reflecting additional spending because of provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, higher food costs and increasing program participation rates due to the recession.

The 2008 Farm Bill was unusual in that tax provisions outside the jurisdiction of the agriculture committees were used to create offsets for new provisions, presumably for nutrition programs.

Starting in FY2010, the majority of all spending (more than 80%) was on domestic food assistance programs. Total spent on nutrition in the 2002 Farm Bill was $148.092 billion.

In the 2008 Farm Bill, that number has jumped to $314.264 billion.

The Farm Bill will get passed either in the lame duck session after the election or there will be an extension added into 2013. It’s probably time though that we changed the name of the Farm Bill to correctly reflect where the money is spent.

Dave Forgey, Cass County dairy farmer

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