April 16, 2014

Center for Rural Affairs boss: Farm bill has good/bad for rural areas

The U.S. House should start debating the Farm Bill early in July after the Senate last week passed its version of the $498-billion, five-year bill.

Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs, says the Senate’s 1,000-page version has some positive elements included for rural areas.

“The amendments before the full Senate added rural development funding to the bill for beginning farmers, small business development, for small towns who have to update their water and sewer systems,” Hassebrook says. “We’re very pleased by that because as the bill came out of committee, it would’ve been the first (farm) bill in decades to include no funding for rural development.”

The Senate version of the farm bill eliminates the $5-billion a year direct payment subsidy, while the primary farm program is crop insurance. Hassebrook says that’s not good news for family farms or beginning farmers.

“There will be no payment limitation what-so-ever on crop insurance,” he says. “If one corporation farms the entire states of Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota, the government would pay 60% of their crop insurance premium on every acre. That’s not only fiscally irresponsible, it essentially subsidizes those big companies to drive out family-sized farms.”

As the debate moves to the House next month, Hassebrook hopes to see more cuts in subsidies to corporate operators and more expansion of rural development funding.

“Past farm bills have oversubsidized the biggest farms and underinvested in the future of rural America,” he says. “They’ve underinvested in beginning farmers. They’ve underinvested in rural communities, small business development, and so we’re going to pitch for a farm bill that cuts back on subsidies to mega-farms and invests more in creating a better future in rural America.”

The Farm Bill passed the Senate on a 64-to-35 vote and cuts back ag spending by about $23-billion over current levels.

The Center for Rural Affairs is based in Lyons.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton