Corporate Farming Notes: Actively Engaged Rule

The Center for Rural Affairs worked tirelessly in the last Congressional farm bill debate to ensure small and mid-sized family farmers who actively work and manage their operations are the recipients of farm program payments. Strong public policy, in statute and administrative rule, that clearly defines what it means to be “actively engaged” in farming is crucial to that goal.

Sadly, in the 11th hour, farm bill negotiators came up with a deal intended to eviscerate the provisions of the bill that would have addressed the need to define an actively engaged farmer. They did so to protect the interests of the nation’s largest and their passive investors. However, their efforts on behalf of the mega-farm special interests created some serious unintended consequences.

Upon further analysis of the language that was inserted during back-room negotiations, we discovered negotiators created a rigid and stricter test than was initially realized. Unfortunately, the language included in the final Farm Bill requires family farmers to demonstrate that they provide labor on the farm to receive farm payments but does not require that passive investors in corporate mega-farms meet the same standard. Those investors in corporate farms need only meet a management test.

Creating a two-tiered test for farm programs, one for family farms and one for corporate mega-farms, is bad public policy. Moreover, it assaults the sensibilities of all Americans, rural, small town, and big city folks alike who support farm programs that help real family farmers. Corporate farming special interests convinced Congress to foist this sham on the American people and drape it in a facade of protecting family farmers.

If family farmers need to show that they provide labor on their farm to receive farm payments, that they have dirt under their fingernails, then corporate mega-farms should have to live up to the same standard. Congress should go back to the drawing board and develop rules for farm programs that ensure they serve the small and mid-sized family farms the American people intended them to serve.