Impact of USDA Farm Policy Book Uncertain

USDA's farm policy book, "Food and Agricultural Policy,Taking Stock for the New Century," is prompting debate within the agriculture community.

September 21, 2001
Contact: Marjory Walker
(901) 274-9030

Ag Secretary Ann Veneman's release of the USDA paper, "Food and Agricultural Policy,Taking Stock for the New Century," is prompting debate within the agriculture community on the position of USDA on a new farm bill. The document takes a broader view of U.S. agriculture without offering specific recommendations on policy.

Stressing the diversity of agriculture, the document asserts that a "one-size fits all" farm policy will not work for today's agricultural sector. The booklet offers a description of farms across the U.S., their structure and their contribution to overall agricultural production. While stating that farming itself employs only about 1 percent of the workforce and accounts for less than 1 percent of the gross domestic product, the statement asserts that it nonetheless is "the critical component of the entire food and fiber system …that contributes $1.5 trillion (16 percent of the gross domestic product) and employs 17 percentof the labor force. Helping this system remain efficient and competitive globally, especially as markets shift from commodities to high-value products, is not only critical to the financial well-being of farmers, but also very important to the U.S. economy."

Parts of the document that stress the importance of conservation and environmental stewardship were seized upon by some environmental groups as evidence that the Bush Administration will work to change the balance of support in agriculture from farm programs to conservation/environmental programs and have provided some ammunition to conservation amendments in the House. Statements in the document describing the structure of farming in the U.S. and emphasizing the different needs of commercial-sized operations and smaller, "rural-residence" farms have been reported as evidence the Bush Administration favors a more targeted approach to farm policy.

However, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-TX) stated that the principles and ideas put forward by USDA "are fully consistent with goals of H.R. 2646, the Farm Security Act, which has been passed by the House Agriculture Committee."

Similarly, NCC Chairman James Echols stressed the USDA booklet was designed to view agriculture from a strategic standpoint and did not contain specific policy recommendations. He noted that USDA's document focuses on such critical issues as offering a safety net in times of financial hardship due to factors beyond producer's control; balancing support between commodity, conservation, trade and infrastructure; promoting competitiveness; and adopting flexibility and cropping choice as hallmarks of U.S. policy.

"These critical areas were addressed by the House Agriculture Committee in H.R. 2646," said Echols. "The farm bill being developed in the House provides support to the sector across a broad front, with emphasis on farmers, conservation, research, nutrition and international trade. The House already has taken significant steps toward addressing risk management in agriculture and improving policy on several other key fronts. We are moving in the right direction on farm policy. The USDA document provides more information and insight that will help Congress in its overall effort to return U.S. agriculture to financial health."