EDITORIAL: U.S. agriculture deserves safety net from new bill

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Americans enjoy food that is safe, abundant and cheap. We hope fast-approaching debate on the 2012 Farm Bill doesn’t threaten the safety nets for farmers and ranchers who underpin our nation’s food supply.

With the current U.S. Farm Bill due to expire with the 2012 crop year, we have concerns that some important provisions in the current bill will be reduced or even done away with. That would do lasting harm to soil and water conservation efforts and put at risk the financial health of family farmers who form the foundation of American agriculture.

Provisions in the current bill provide payments to farmers when prices for corn, soybeans and other commodities are very low. When prices are high, as has been the case for the past several years, farmers receive little or no payments under commodity price-support programs.

Though farmers face higher input costs, crop prices have been pushed higher by global demand and biofuel production that turns grain into fuel. High prices may cause some to think commodity protection programs should be removed from the next farm bill, but we think farm policy shouldn’t be based on the assumption that good times will continue. We need only look at past history to know that grain prices – and the health of the American farm economy – moves in cycles.

The next farm bill needs to be effective if hard times return to the farm.

As provisions of the bill are debated in coming months, we hope conservation programs are kept, including payment for conservation reserve programs that pay farmers to plant noncommodity crops on land at risk of erosion.

One might argue the nation needs more land growing corn and soybeans, not less, but history shows us that American farmers continue to become more productive, meaning more bushels are produced from the same acres.

Here in Perry County, there are hundreds of acres enrolled in conservation reserve programs, reducing erosion and protecting rivers and streams.

Also important in farm legislation are programs that help livestock farmers find ways to protect the environment.

We’re not suggesting there be no changes to the farm bill. We agree with critics that some programs funnel too much money to large corporate megafarms, not the family farmers who produce the bulk of the food we eat and whose survival should be of national importance.

Legislators crafting the nation’s new farm bill will have to juggle a variety of factors: high commodity prices, global demand for food, biofuels and free trade. We hope lawmakers remember the family farmers who produce the food, fiber and fuel we rely on every day.

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