The Farm Bill: A missed opportunity
By U.S. Sen. Susan Collins
The American people are fortunate to have the most abundant and affordable food supply in the world. This bounty is the result of the hard work and initiative of our nation’s family farmers.
Unfortunately, it occurs all too often in spite of, not because of, federal farm policies that help large agri-businesses at the expense of smaller, family farms, reward waste and inefficiency, and shortchange essential research and conservation needs. Recently, Congress had the opportunity to reform our nation’s farm policy during the reauthorization of the Farm Bill. As a longstanding advocate for reform, I am disappointed that this opportunity was missed yet again.
While the final Farm Bill does contain provisions that I support, including funding for agricultural research, and conservation and forestry programs, I am disappointed that it falls far short of providing desperately needed reforms for Maine’s small dairy farmers. Once one of Maine’s most important agricultural industries, just 287 dairy farms remain in our state today, and they are threatened because of the way the Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets dairy prices. For the past several years, I have been involved in efforts to prompt USDA to pursue reform of this archaic and convoluted process. I authored a provision that was supported by Maine’s dairy farmers and originally included in the Senate-passed Farm Bill last year that would have done just that. Unfortunately, this provision, which was strongly supported by Maine dairy farmers and Maine’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Walt Whitcomb, was not included in the final bill that the President recently signed.
In addition, I am seriously concerned about the billions of dollars that continue to be spent on wasteful subsidies to large agribusiness. I was disappointed to see that important reforms that were included in the Senate bill, such as a firm income cap to prevent the wealthiest farmers from receiving taxpayer subsidies, were rejected by the joint House and Senate committee that was charged with working out the differences between the two versions. Certainly, most farmers are not rich. But, right now, 10 percent of the wealthiest farmers receive 70-percent of the federal benefits from the nation’s farm programs. This Farm Bill just does not do enough to cut massive, wasteful taxpayer subsidies for large agribusinesses in the South and West that come of the expense of small, family farms here in the Northeast. While family farmers struggle to make ends meet, this bill leaves in place loopholes that allow multi-million dollar agribusinesses to receive subsidies at taxpayer expense. That is simply unfair.
Federal nutrition programs included in the Farm Bill also play an important role in the fight against hunger. Studies show more than 50 million Americans do not get enough to eat, and far too many families and seniors struggle to put food on the table.
As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have supported funding for the Special Supplemental Food Program, also known as SNAP, the Women, Infants, Children (WIC) program, the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), and several other important nutrition programs. In response to increased need at food banks, last summer I joined nearly two dozen of my colleagues in urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to distribute existing funding and ensure a steady stream of TEFAP commodities at food banks to help combat hunger. I also opposed the drastic cuts to the SNAP program that were included in the version of the Farm Bill that originally passed the House of Representatives and instead supported reforms in the program.
After supporting Senate passage last year of a Farm Bill that included many real reforms, I’m disappointed that I could not support this final version. The cost of this Farm Bill remains too high at nearly $1 trillion over the next decade, and more should be done to reform agribusiness programs to help address our skyrocketing debt.
I will continue to work for reform that will strengthen American agriculture, nutrition programs, and conservation and rural development initiatives in the best interests of American taxpayers.