essay: Influencing the Farm Bill Debate

The opportunity to shape a debate that focuses on investing in the future and reforming excessive payments is at hand—be part of it

Congress has begun writing a new farm bill, and each of us who cares about rural America has a responsibility to help shape the outcome. The stakes are high.

The farm bill can foster new vitality for rural communities, small businesses, and family farms. There are three key principles. The farm bill must invest in our future. It must reform excessive payments that subsidize concentration and drive smaller producers off the land. And citizens of conscience must enter the fray.

This is a critical time to invest in rural America. There are proven strategies that work to revitalize family farms and small towns. Small business entrepreneurship and microenteprise, value added agriculture, and developing new rural leaders and engaging youth for community development work when government invests. New opportunities in energy production merit investment. And that investment must be matched with conservation investments to address the pressures that soaring demand for energy crops will place on soil and water resources.

If we spend all our money on immediate support and none on our future – we won’t have a future. There are opportunities to reduce spending on immediate farm income support while strengthening family farms. Farmers and non farmers alike support effective limitations on payments to mega farms. But in the past, they’ve been derailed by backroom deals to secure more money for farm programs sooner.

It’s time to put an end to it. It’s time to say no to another farm bill that destroys family farming and squanders funds that could be invested in our future. More money spent poorly is not the solution to family farm decline. It is a root cause of the problem.

Just as farm programs should not subsidize the destruction of American family farms, they should not drive small African farmers off the land. The cotton program in some years provided as much money in government payments as growers received from the market – but only if they keep growing cotton and dumping it on saturated world markets at the expense of farmers elsewhere. The U.S. treasury should not drive African farmers into poverty and hunger.

Each of us can influence this debate. Ten letters from constituents at the right time can turn the vote of a policymaker. Three hundred letters almost always have an impact – even on contentious debates. When citizens engage in the debate, their voices trump the power of money. But when we sit silently on the sidelines, money fills the void and special interest politics as usual rules the day.

For the rest of this year, we have the opportunity to shape a debate that will shape our future in rural America. Please look for and respond to our action alerts. Please embrace responsibility for our common future.

Agree or disagree? Send your comments to Chuck Hassebrook, or 402.687.2103x 1018. Better yet, leave a comment below.

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