Promoting Productivity

Published in the November 2010 Issue Published online: Nov 08, 2010 Larry Combest

"Our farmers deserve praise, not condemnation; and their efficiency should be cause for gratitude, not something from which they are penalized."

These words taken from a speech by President John F. Kennedy nearly 50 years ago still ring true. Today, our farmers are more efficient than ever, yet they face rising condemnation to match.

As we prepare for the 2012 Farm Bill debate, it is imperative that all of agriculture comes together to protect its interests and to ensure America can maintain a dependable source of domestically grown food and all of the jobs that go with it.

Growing up in rural America on a fourth-generation farm, I came to know on a personal level producers growing all kinds of crops and raising all kinds of livestock. Later, as Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, I had the privilege of working with farmers and ranchers from all across the United States on a professional level as well.

Though the very nature of agriculture is one of variety and is subject to constant change, there are constants among farmers and ranchers wherever you meet them: They take huge financial risks, they are hopeful, they work hard and they are proud of what they do.

Unfortunately, too many people off the farm seem to take our safe, abundant and affordable supply of food and fiber for granted, perhaps overlooking lessons from history and the contributions of agriculture to the economy.

These people-many of whom are government officials-often ignore the sky-high foreign subsidies, tariffs and arbitrarily closed markets that our farmers and ranchers face. And they forget the weather risks that are so great and varied that no private insurance company would ever cover them alone.

In fact, U.S. farm policy has been cut to the bone in recent years, with crop insurance bearing the brunt of the cuts.

The average funding for farm policy today is 23 percent below what it was from 2002 to 2006, and 28 percent below 1997 to 2001.

What remains of U.S. farm policy provides a very basic level of protection for producers who will, in this year alone, make a crop expected to yield $332 billion worth of goods after they have spent $187 billion to purchase inputs, made $62 billion in rent payments, paid $26.2 billion in wages to employees and spent $14 billion in interest and financing.

In short, there is a whole lot of economic activity and jobs riding on the thin tires of U.S. farm policy. And these days, the real rubber meeting the road for farmers is crop insurance, which has been slashed by more than $12 billion since 2008.

It's time to stop slashing.

When you consider the return on investment Americans see from farm policy, and when you take a look at the economic engine that agriculture is, it's not hard to see why President John F. Kennedy defended farmers.

Farmers need to unite to do the same and actively defend the policies important to our families, communities and country.

Now let's get out there and tell our good story.