For smart agriculture policy, give farmers the right tools

Agriculture plays an integral role in our nation’s society, economics and global competitiveness. It’s woven into the very fabric that has made America one of the greatest nations in the world. Whether it’s food on grocery store shelves, biofuel in our vehicles or the clothes on our back, chances are it was made by an American farmer. 

While farming has changed over the years — with the U.S. moving from an agrarian society to a nation where the average citizen is three generations removed from the farm — agriculture is no less significant. The same can be said for farm policy. While it, too, has drastically changed, it still plays an important role in our country’s independence. Sound farm policy, both in the short and long term, just makes sense. 

Looking ahead, farm policy will continue to evolve and change. And while it’s hard to forecast exactly what it will look like 20 years down the road, there are essential tools in the agriculture policy toolbox that we need to maintain. 

The first tool is having good, solid risk-management options that allow farmers to tailor their business strategies to fit their individual farms or ranches. All farmers have different risk management needs, based on what they grow, how and where they grow it and how much land they grow it on. The same goes for ranchers. A rancher in drought-stricken Texas faces different risks from a rancher in the frozen plains of South Dakota.  

Enhancement of marketing tools will help farmers be better prepared for an ever-changing society, allowing them to better market their goods. It’s important these farm policy provisions are tied to what is actually planted rather than production history. This will ensure that farmers are able to base planting decisions on market signals rather than chasing farm program benefits. Farmers need to be able to lessen risks from both market volatility and Mother Nature.

During last year’s farm bill debate, both the House and Senate incorporated a variation of risk-management tools into their respective bills. We hope this year’s farm bill will continue toward that goal, serving as a basis for future farm policy. 

The second tool in the box is research and technology. Worldwide demand for food, feed, fiber and fuel from America’s farmers will continue to increase. Keeping up requires a commitment from our government to help bring new innovations into farming, as well as a robust and flexible regulatory process for those technologies that require government approval. 

Continued advancement in areas like conservation research and technology, which could help all farmers reduce water use — from those who farm organically to those who use biotechnology — while keeping up with worldwide food demand will play a big role in farm policy. 

Fiscal reform is the third tool that is needed. Getting the federal budget in order, reducing the deficit and restarting our economy are all underpinnings of good farm policy. Agriculture has been the lead in proposing fiscal responsibility in crafting current farm bill legislation.

Of course, no farm bill is complete without talking about nutrition. Nutrition programs alone account for 78 percent of agricultural spending. These programs provide resources that allow individuals and families to go to the store and purchase food coming from America’s farms and ranches.

The last tool in the farm policy toolbox is expanded trade opportunities. Being competitive in the global marketplace is significant for America’s farmers and ranchers, as well as the nation’s economy. More than $141 billion worth of American agricultural goods are exported around the world, and U.S. farm exports accounted for more than 30 percent of agriculture earnings last year. 

While we continue to bring our trade agreements closer to a true science-based process, there remains a lot of frustration in resolving disputes when countries use non-tariff trade barriers to prevent the flow of goods and services. Going forward, there needs to be an efficient process to review and determine the outcome of these trade disputes. 

Unfortunately, I don’t have a crystal ball that looks into agriculture’s future. But one thing is certain: if farmers and ranchers are going to stay competitive with other countries, while meeting global food demand and continuing to contribute to our nation’s economy, farmers will need this entire box of tools to get the job done. 

Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, is a cattle and rice farmer from Columbus, Texas.