One has to keep in mind that the $300-billion farm bill is largely about nutrition programs and conservation; only marginally is it about grain production. Nor is the livestock industry very directly involved, though it is indirectly influenced by a lot of it.
The big measures from a cattle-industry standpoint are the increased funding for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), ethanol subsidies, and the fact that, once again, the packer ban was advanced by the Iowa delegation, and once again defeated.
In addition, compromises that address many of the shortcomings in the mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law were hammered out. If the expected Bush veto were to stand, and the current farm bill extended, it would potentially cause serious problems for the livestock industry. Congress would have to scramble to pass legislation outside the farm bill to address the problems of the original mandatory COOL legislation.
The Bush administration had demanded substantial changes in the farm program, which was the right move. With unprecedented prosperity across nearly all grain segments, this was the ideal time to curtail spending and make substantive reform to farm policy. On the other hand, it wasn’t likely that an unpopular, lame-duck president could achieve his reforms and spending cuts just six months away from a major election.
Obviously, with energy taking priority over food, it’s increasingly absurd to even call it a “farm bill.” It’s really about funding nutrition and hunger programs, as well as the environmental management of privately held lands.
Despite the war and exploding food prices, there’s seemingly very little concern about the importance from a national-security standpoint of producing our own food. The transferring of food production to foreign countries, and the growing of grain for fuel, seem to have met very little resistance.
In many ways, ag has been so successful that it’s created its own problems. Less than 2% of the population is today involved in the direct production of our foodstuffs. And having had the cheapest, most wholesome, and abundant food supply in the world for so long has given the average consumer the luxury of having to give little thought to how this abundance is produced.
Our current farm policy may have a lot of critics domestically but the current bill will only exasperate these critics, while making it hard to open foreign markets to our products. Most importantly, until the Third World can develop its food-production capabilities, it also equates to a lot of pain for those unable to feed themselves.