Supporting Agricultural Initiatives

Research is a fundamental component in the health of the American agriculture industry. Not only does it safeguard the interests of producers and processors but it also is responsible for improving farming practices that affect all consumers.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS), a segment of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, studies national industry priorities to improve our country’s farming practices “from field to table,” according to its Web site. Research is financed through money secured by Congress in the annual budget. ARS partners with companies, organizations, universities and other countries to meet the following objectives:
• Ensure high-quality, safe food and other agricultural products
• Assess the nutritional needs of Americans
• Sustain a competitive agricultural economy
• Enhance the natural resource base and the environment
• Provide economic opportunities for rural citizens, communities and society

“So widespread are ARS’s crop improvements, you’re very likely to be buying a product of ARS research any time you shop for produce. While many of these improvements—like extending harvest seasons, increasing growing range and improving disease resistance and tolerance to pests—appear at first glance to benefit only the farmer and rancher, they ultimately always benefit the public by making food more affordable and more available,” states the ARS research team.

Farms across America benefit from research findings; ranging from soil resource and watershed management techniques to the evolution of disease-resistant livestock. Innovations affect the national economy and industry as well as individual states with particular business markets. President Obama signed The Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 into law March 11. The act allocates federal money to cabinet departments and includes, for example, $4 million in funds to targeted programs and services that support Ohio farmers.

“By investing in agricultural research and innovation, we help foster Ohio’s strong legacy of farming and empower the next generation of leaders in Ohio’s rural communities,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH.

Another advocate for industry research is The Foundation for Agronomic Research (FAR). FAR helps facilitate development and implementation of science-based research and education programs in applied crop and soil management. Like ARS, FAR supports important research and education programs to help bring science to the field for farmers and their advisers. Unlike ARS, FAR programs are funded through sponsorships, grants and agribusiness companies.

A question can be raised – What is the best way to organize and manage agricultural research? An ongoing debate exists about cost-effective research with some favoring the distribution of competitive grants to specific projects in individual states, while others argue that each state should conduct research about issues that affect the entire country.

Either way, research brings “science to your shopping cart” and ensures the continued success of the American agriculture industry.

How beneficial is agricultural research to the U.S.? Should more or less money be invested in research efforts? Toward what segments of the industry should ARS/FAR devote their research efforts?

Value of Agricultural Subsides

In the wake of the unveiling of Obama’s stimulus package and proposed budget, farmers and agribusinesses across the nation are charged with defending the significance of farm subsidies.

Agricultural subsidies have been a staple in the industry since the 1930s. Responsible for offsetting operation costs for fuel, equipment, fertilizers and seed, as well as setting a price floor for individual markets, many farmers rely on direct payments as both a business tool and a component of overall income.

In a letter regarding Obama’s plan to the chairmen and ranking members of the agriculture and budget committees in both houses of Congress, a collective voice from 39 diverse agriculture organizations stated, “The proposed budget cuts overlook the fact that producers and lenders alike have made long-term business decisions based upon the commitment made by Congress in the five-year farm bill and thus will exacerbate the current credit crisis.”

Subsidies envelop more than 24 commodity goods produced by U.S. farmers including wheat, corn, soybeans, sugar, rice and tobacco. Payments are derived from taxpayer money and allotted to farmers regardless of production and yield amount. (The direct payment for 2008 is 85 percent of the farm’s base acreage for the crop, multiplied by the direct payment yield for the crop, multiplied by the direct payment rate for the crop).

Obama’s plan will phase out direct payments to recipients earning more than $500,000 a year throughout a three-year time span. It also sets a $250,000 cap on any form of direct payment a farmer can receive.

Significant to the subsidy sphere is the Agriculture Act of 1933. Established under President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression, this legislation also gave birth to The Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). The CCC is a government-owned and operated entity that was created to stabilize, support and protect farm income and prices. CCC also helps maintain balanced and adequate supplies of agricultural commodities and aids in their orderly distribution.

Opponents assert that subsidies benefit mega farms, leaving small, family-owned and operated farms by the wayside. Others assert that subsidies have contributed to excess supply of farm products and allow inefficient farms to continue to exist.

"Why should we be sending millions of dollars to the largest corporate farms in the country? That's not what a safety net is for," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

Proponents of subsidies counter that direct payments are vital to a fluctuating industry and without the financial assistance received from subsidies, farming ventures could cease to exist and the food market would ultimately suffer.

What is your opinion about subsidies? Can farm operators and the food market survive in their absence or are subsidies necessary to regulate a variable industry?

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and how it affects agriculture

On Feb. 17, President Barack Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, otherwise known as the economic stimulus package. The intent of the bill is to provide a stimulus to the U.S. economy in the wake of the economic downturn. The bill includes federal tax cuts, expansion of unemployment benefits and other social-welfare provisions and domestic spending in education, health care and infrastructure, including the energy sector.

This bill and Obama’s proposed budget for the upcoming year are causing agricultural associations to take notice. There are definitely mixed feelings among farmers and agricultural groups on the benefits and/or drawbacks of the two.

Obama is calling for the elimination of direct payments to large farming operations, reduced subsides for federal crop insurance programs, the elimination of storage payments on cotton and the phasing out of farm-program payments to growers with incomes of more than $500,000 over a three-year period.

“The president’s proposed limit penalizes the farms that are responsible for the majority of food, feed and fiber production in the U.S.,” said Jay Hardwick, National Cotton Council chairman, in a recent article in Southwest Farm Press. “According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, farms with sales of $500,000 or more accounted for almost three-fourths of all agricultural products sold.”

The National Cotton Council (NCC) stated that Obama’s proposed program changes “fail to recognize the work recently completed by Congress on the Food, Conservation and Energy Act (FCEA) of 2008 [otherwise known as the Farm Bill].”

According to the Southwest Farm Press article, leaders of the National Cotton Council, the National Corn Growers Association and the American Soybean Association state that they would oppose any attempts to change the provisions they fought to include in the 2008 Farm Bill.

“We’re very concerned about that statement. We’re not sure if he was talking about huge corporate farms or other parts of our industry,” said National Corn Growers Association President Bob Dickey when asked about the president’s proposal.

The Farm Bill is a five-year agricultural policy bill. It continues America's long history of agricultural subsidy, as well as pursuing areas such as energy, conservation, nutrition and rural development.

On the other end of the spectrum, in an article in North Platte Telegraph, the American Farm Bureau and National Farmers Union are pleased with the stimulus package’s commitment to renewable energy and broadband service for rural America.

“The tax incentives for renewable energy, particularly for new renewable fuels, will help build an industry that will provide farmers and ranchers with income and the rural economy with jobs, while contributing to a cleaner environment and reduced dependence on imported oil, ” said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

So what do you think of Obama’s stimulus package and proposed budget impact on agriculture?