Advantages in the 2012 farm bill have teeter-tottered between big agriculture and small farms,
and as of now, the small farms are winning.
The Senate passed a $969 billion farm bill last week 90-8, and the House could vote on the
measure this week. The bill cuts mandatory agricultural spending by $23.6 billion over 10
The biggest cut — nearly $20 billion — comes in the proposed elimination of decades-old
subsidies and direct payments to commodities farmers to help them manage poor weather and market
conditions. This cut promises to change the balance between farms that produce commodities, such as
corn, wheat and soybeans, and smaller vegetable and fruit farms.
The financial supports for commodities date to the Great Depression and were designed to secure
national defense and limit the influence of powerful corporations in the market.
“At its core, the farm bill is a national-defense bill,” writes Scott Marlow, executive director
of Rural Advancement Foundation International USA, a nonprofit organization in Pittsboro, N.C.,
that promotes conservation and sustainable agriculture. “It is about the ability of our country to
feed our military in wartime.”
Replacing most of the Department of Agriculture’s price- and income-support programs with a
risk-based revenue-protection program for crop and dairy farmers is expected to save $19.8 billion
from fiscal 2013 through 2022, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The risk-based system “would end the era of paying farmers for crops they do not grow and
replace direct payments with a program based on current crop-year data, market prices and actual
yields,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, during a conference call with reporters last
Rather than receiving direct payments, farmers would have a safety net that would compensate
them if they sell their crops for less than the government expects them to.
The Ohio Soybean Association, the Ohio Corn Wheat Growers Association and the Ohio Farm
Bureau Federation are urging members to contact Brown and Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, to
ask them to vote yes on the Senate-proposed farm bill.
However, rice and peanut farmers say the farm bill could hurt them. Georgia Sen. Saxby
Chambliss, a Republican, is concerned that the bill redistributes resources from one region to
another based on program design rather than market forces or cropping decisions.
“Certain commodities receive more resources than others, and crops such as peanuts and rice are
left without any safety net,” Chambliss said in a June 8 newsletter by the U.S. Rice Producers
Energy is a big winner in the bill, with spending expected to more than double to $1.5 billion
for biorefineries and biomass facilities, renewable-energy systems and biofuels and bio-based
The farm bill shaves $3.9 billion from nutrition programs, but that’s a drop in a $768.2 billion
bucket over the next decade. And the legislation expands spending authority for the Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program,according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance; Women, Infants Children; Fresh Fruit and Vegetable;
and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition programs have become increasingly important to Ohio vegetable
and fruit producers who sell their products directly to the public, said Lisa Schacht, co-owner of
the Schacht Family Farm and Market in Canal Winchester.
Schacht, president of the Ohio Produce Growers Marketers Association, said the Specialty
Crop Block Grant Program and the Specialty Crop Research Initiative “are truly the favored sons of
the farm bill to our growers.” Spending on horticulture — including fruit and vegetable crops — is
estimated to grow 35 percent to $1.4 billion under the farm bill. Spending for research, extension
and related activities is projected to triple to $860 million.
“We hope the legislators recognize the value of public dollars going to help farmers expand
productivity through resources or tools,” Schacht said, pointing to research at Ohio State
University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster.
In one project, Jeff Lejeune, a professor of veterinary preventive medicine at OSU’s College of
Veterinary Medicine, is studying adding beneficial bacteria to farm soil to inhibit the spread of
E. coli bacteria.
Schacht compared the government’s support of agricultural research to its support of medical
research for orphan diseases. “You can’t get the attention of big companies to do farm research,
but the government can make it worth their while.”