The so-called ‘Farm Bill’ continues to be one of the more controversial aspects of our nation’s budget. Possibly, this controversy exists because it is not a Farm Bill. It is a food, conservation, and energy bill. Approximately 75 to 80 percent of the 284 billion dollars of the five-year Farm Bill goes to food stamps and other nutritional assistance programs, not farm subsidies as often presented by the media and subsequently misperceived by the public. So, when and why did all this controversy begin?
Back in the presidential election of 1928, candidate Herbert Hoover promised "a chicken in every pot for Sunday dinner." As a side note, the phrase, “a chicken in every pot" was actually coined by King Henry IV of France (1553-1610). The need for the US government to ensure a consistent supply of safe food, at affordable prices, is what resulted in the creation of the first Farm Bill in 1933. In modern times the “Farm Bill” is also known as the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008.
The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 represents a mere 2% of the national budget and is largely dedicated (again 70 to 80%) to domestic nutrition assistance programs. These programs include, but are not limited to The Women, Infant and Children Program (WIC), consumer nutrition programs, food stamps, school lunches and breakfast programs. The remaining percentage is divided among various agriculture-related programs, primarily crop insurance, shared risk programs, farm commodity price supports, and conservation. Combined these efforts allow the US consumer access to an abundance of safe, high quality, and inexpensive food, not found in other countries.
Perhaps what makes this bill so controversial is that all Americans benefit from its existence. In most developed nations, consumers spend more than 30 percent of their income on food. In the United States, consumers spend less than 10 percent of their income on food. In addition, a record number – 46.37 million Americans – receive benefits from some type of food assistance program, at a cost of $6.025 billion per month. Again, the Farm Bill, meaning The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, exists to ensure a consistent and safe supply of food at affordable prices to the American consumer, not just to benefit those involved in producing our food i.e., production agriculture, the farmers.
As part of the recent ‘fiscal cliff’ deal, Congress passed an extension until September 2013 of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008. Thus, we will continue to hear much about this bill in the weeks to come. So, when you hear the term ‘Farm Bill’ in place of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, I ask that you please think about your food, your environment, and your energy. Life as we know it will be considerably different without food, without the environment, and without energy.
Sheila A. Marshman is a professor of Agriculture Business at Morrisville State College, the President Elect of New York Agri-Women and is married to a 6th generation dairy farm business owner in Oxford, N.Y.