Other Views: Don’t take farm bill’s success for granted
Grand Forks Herald, Grand Forks
“People can debate how much help the poor should get and whether it’s optimal to deliver aid in the form of food stamps,” the Washington Post editorialized in June.
“But it’s beyond debate — or should be — that government has a role to play in helping them. By contrast, U.S. farmers are wealthy enough to take care of themselves and have been for many years.
“There’s no argument — beyond the spurious specter of food shortages — for propping them up with taxpayer money. The sooner Congress starts making policy with those truths in mind, the better.”
But there is an argument. And you don’t have to look any farther than this week’s Minnesota and North Dakota newspapers to find it.
In recent years, Red River Valley sugar beet farmers have done reasonably well, as the farmers themselves will be the first to admit.
But that was then. This is now:
“American Crystal Sugar Co. is warning its growers that the checks they will get for the crop just harvested will be much smaller than the checks they received after last year’s harvest,” Forum News Service reported on Wednesday.
“… In a posting on American Crystal’s employee blog, (Crystal CEO Dave) Berg said a drop of $30 per ton means most American Crystal growers will lose money raising beets this year, and in many cases they will lose a lot of money. …
“These are farmers, and everything they produce goes up in price and it goes down in price,” Berg said in the story.
“You really hate to see this kind of dramatic fall in price, but they (farmers) understand that this is the way markets work.”
To repeat: This is the way markets work. This is the way farm markets in particular work:
“Everything they produce goes up in price, and it goes down in price.”
And that’s why America needs a farm bill: To smooth out those often-wild fluctuations, thus bringing a measure of stability to region — rural America — that needs it and an industry that makes the most of it.
Throughout most of American history, farming was marked by dramatic ups and downs. The Dust Bowl years are legendary, and the extreme hardship of that time is what brought about the loans, price supports and other payments that eventually became the farm bill.
And it hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride since. During the farm crisis of the 1980s, thousands of farm families lost their farms.
But how quickly we forget. Today, according to the Washington Post, “U.S. farmers are wealthy enough to take care of themselves.”
The Post’s analysis neglects two key points. First, crop prices have had a good run, all right. But in farming, what goes up must come down, as the news about sugar beets confirms.
Sooner or later, the prices will fall. And for many crops, that’s when the farm bill’s core protections kick in.
Second, the farm bill’s provisions have helped bring about some measure of farmers’ prosperity.
The farm bill is a successful federal program, in other words.
And that’s why the House and Senate should reach agreement on the farm bill: Because it has worked.
The farm bill has done exactly what it was supposed to do, and rural America is better off as a result.
That means all of America is better off, too.