At one time, splitting future farm bills into two parts made sense to me. After all, a huge chunk of funding provided in the farm bill really has little to do with food production and more to do with providing food for people who can’t afford it. A large share of USDA’s budget goes to nutrition programs for consumers such as WIC and SNAP, both of which are assistance programs for women, children and low-income families.
Removing that portion from the farm bill makes sense — on the surface. The primary advantage would be that the public would realize a good share of the money many think funnels into programs that assist farmers and agriculture has nothing to do with benefiting farmers. Let the public find out, finally, what many farm bill dollars are really used for — public assistance programs.
Whoa, wait a minute! That’s what Bob White would say to anyone who still subscribes to the notion that splitting out the nutrition title would make good sense for agriculture and farmers, including me! White is director of national government relations for Indiana Farm Bureau.
Both White and Randy Kron, a farmer and president of Indiana Farm Bureau, say splitting out nutrition titles and attempting to get a farm bill that is truly about supporting farmers and agriculture could be political suicide.
“We could very well wind up with no farm bill for agriculture at all,” White says.
How could that happen? Kron says it’s just a matter of politics and simple math. He notes that only 34 members of Congress across the entire country represent congressional districts where 50% or more of the people living there are rural and tied to agriculture. That’s less than 10% of all of Congress. None of Indiana’s nine congressional districts has more than 50% rural or agricultural constituents living inside the district boundaries.
Plain and simple, farmers and ranchers are outnumbered, Kron observes. “It takes 218 votes to pass a bill out of Congress,” he says. “Where is our support going to come from for a bill which is solely about supporting agriculture, primarily farmers and ranchers?”
Both White and Kron foresee Congress passing legislation to continue nutrition titles and public assistance food programs if the titles were split apart. They argue that more constituents of most members of Congress receive these benefits compared to constituents who live in rural areas. The votes in Congress tend to go toward issues that benefit people that vote for them. It’s a hard truth, but it’s reality.
It took White and Kron to spell it out in easy-to-understand terms. Unhitch the two sections from each other, and the general public would likely think agriculture still received too much money, even if it was significantly less than the amount poured into the farm bill today.
The task force that Kron appointed to come up with farm bill recommendations urged that agriculture and nutrition titles be left together. Both Kron and White say sentiment is leaning toward leaving them together in future farm bills.
When you put it in this new light, we agree. Let’s work for a farm bill that benefits everyone currently served by this legislation.