Anyone who pretends they're an expert on the 2014 Farm Bill that just passed just might be pulling your leg. The bill is full of details, and Purdue University ag economists say that how the rules are fleshed out will go a long way toward determining the impact of the bill.
Direct payments were eliminated, but crop insurance was "strengthened," or at least that's what the buzz on the Internet says. The 800-pound gorilla that the House wanted to take out, food stamps, is still there. So who does the bill really help and how much has changed?
That depends upon who you listen to. My email was flooded both when the House passed its version, and especially when the Senate passed the bill with all kinds of kudos and congratulations to Congress from every ag-related group imaginable. Only a small percentage of Americans approve of what Congress does, yet ag groups couldn't line up fast enough to thank them for what they did on the bill.
Then the other camp began to raise their voices. These are the economists and activists who still think this bill, like ones before it, pays farmers too much. They also contend it's filled with pork – the kind that goes in barrels, not the kind you eat. Some were pretty bold in saying it was another waste perpetrated on the American people.
Even most of these groups, however, acknowledged that at least 70%, some saying up to 80%, of all Farm Bill expenditures through USDA are for food stamps, a welfare program stuck into USDA many years ago.
It has no business being there. Indiana Prairie Farmer wrote that it should be separated from USDA in an editorial months ago. It was actually encouraging to see the House take action to attempt to do that. Naturally, however, it proved to be too much of a political football. In the end, it went right back in, just as it does every time.
Did the public get the message that a big share of USDA expenditures have nothing to do with farmers? That's hard to say. From the comments some of the naysayers spread around the Internet in the last few days, maybe not.
So what really changed now that there is a new Farm Bill? That will be easier to answer in a few weeks, or maybe a few months, as exact rules and regulations are formulated. It's clear that while farmers will still have federal-backed crop insurance as a safe stop, it appears that'll have to learn new rules about a system that's already far too complicated.
However it turns out, some things didn't and won't change. If your ox escaped intact, you're praising Congress, saying it's a good bill. If your ox got gored or you aren't fond of farmers getting money from the government and don't really understand how the farm bill or USDA works, then you probably think it's more of the same.
The House opened the door to make a bold change and separate welfare from the Farm Bill. In the end Congress chickened out again. What's new about that?