Magazine article Insight on the News

Farmers Must Plant for Market, Not Government

Magazine article Insight on the News

Farmers Must Plant for Market, Not Government

Article excerpt

As we approach a new century the prospects for American agriculture are unlimited. Worldwide demand for food will double during the next 50 years. As free markets grow across the globe, our farmers and agribusinesses will have unprecedented opportunities to increase their income. In this atmosphere, federal farm policy should focus on a fundamental principle: Farmers will prosper if they grow for the market, not the government.

We should move toward a system in which farmers have complete planting flexibility so they can respond to market demand. Current agricultural policy doesn't allow farmers this kind of freedom because it is stuck in the 1930s. It pays farmers to idle land and take their best acres out of production. New Deal measures that were supposed to be temporary have survived to haunt us.

In light of new market opportunities, and the need to cut federal spending to balance the budget within seven years, we must take a new approach to agriculture. At the heart of the new approach should be an effort to reduce subsidies substantially during the next several years. To strengthen American agriculture as we phase down subsidies, we should:

* Increase opportunities for farmers to make planting choices and other land-management decisions on the basis of market demand instead of government mandate;

* Enhance our international competitiveness;

* Maintain a basic safety net for farm income so as humanely to reduce hardship resulting from wide swings of weather and natural disasters; and

* Offer program certainty to farmers for several years.

We are making significant advances toward balancing the federal budget. Both houses of Congress approved a budget guideline that would eliminate the deficit just two years into the new millennium. Restoring fiscal sanity is paramount if we are to give all Americans hope for a brighter economic future, but we cannot balance the budget unless everyone contributes to substantial changes in federal spending - including agriculture.

In the past, hypothetical farm-program savings often have failed to materialize. For example, Congress believed in 1990 that cuts we enacted in the farm bill would reduce spending during the next five years by nearly $10 billion. Instead, total spending went up. Overall, we spent $15 billion more than anticipated. During the last decade we spent as much on farm programs as was spent in a total of all the previous 50 years since these schemes were introduced by President Roosevelt.

Clearly, we must phase in significant reductions. The upside of reducing subsidy payments for farmers, of course, is that farm programs also will be diminished and the federal government gradually will remove itself from the agriculture business. …

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