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Divide and conquer, or divided we fall?

By Holly Martin

When I speak to non-farm groups, I often include a graph of the fiscal year outlays on the farm bill. Depending on the year, the pie chart is about 70 percent food assistance programs. There’s something about that visual that seems to hit home with consumers. They often say, “I had no idea.”

And that’s the problem: People just don’t know. They hear the price tag of the bill and the reports of farm subsidies going to the likes of Scottie Pippen and Bruce Springsteen and think farmers are milking the government.

Consequently, there has been a recent push to separate farm programs from nutrition assistance. On first blush, it might seem like a good idea, but to put it simply—it’s not.

Consider that only 2 percent of the American population consists of agricultural producers. Twenty-five percent of House members have no farmers in their district at all.

We have a hard enough time getting urban legislators to consider the need of a farm bill. With no food assistance programs included, why would they even care?

Farmers often wonder how food assistance programs and farm programs ever got tied together in the same bill. It’s about food security for our nation. Eating is a basic need. When people go hungry, there is unrest. So it is in the best interest of our country to keep hunger at bay.

We must remember that the goal of what we like to call the farm bill is broader than making sure producers have conservation programs and crop insurance. It’s about food, plain and simple. And food stamps are a part of that.

In addition, the undercurrent to all of this has to do with the fall back to current farm bill legislation. If a farm bill is allowed to expire, permanent legislation—the 1949 farm bill—takes over. This functions as insurance to the agriculture industry that something will be passed. If the bills are divided, that portion could potentially be repealed, meaning it’s entirely possible there would be no farm bill at all.

Last week a group of 532 farm organizations sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner saying separating food stamps from the farm bill was not a good idea. The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union, who seldom agree on anything, were both on the list. If that doesn’t tell you separating the bills is a bad idea, I don’t know what would.

Please don’t misunderstand: There needs to be a major change in our food assistance programs, but accomplishing it by separating food assistance and farm programs is a bad idea. By dividing the two, agriculture policy most certainly would fall.

Holly Martin can be reached by phone at 1-800-452-7171 ext. 1806, or by email at hmartin@hpj.com.

Date: 7/15/2013

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