Chris Oaks spoke with Gary Wilson, former OSU Extension agent and Hancock County Farm Bureau president.
Q: President Trump proposed some significant changes to a number of key agriculture and nutrition programs in his budget outline for the coming year. Most experts believe the budget proposal isn’t going anywhere, but it shows what the president’s priorities are moving forward. How concerned are farmers about what the president is proposing?
A: It is somewhat concerning. And ironic, because just last month President Trump was at the American Farm Bureau Conference in Nashville vowing not to cut any of the safety net programs for farmers. But we’ve also seen this in the past. President Reagan’s Office of Management and Budget proposed drastic cuts, as well.
Q: And these programs are an easy target. Many outside the industry say paying farmers for crops they don’t grow sounds a lot like “corporate welfare.” Why is that view wrong?
A: Farming involves thousands upon thousands of independent producers, charged with providing the world with a safe, plentiful and affordable food supply. The key word in this context is “affordable.” Because it’s a high-risk business where nothing is guaranteed. Farmers aren’t looking for a handout. The reality is that without a safety net to protect against elements that are beyond the farmer’s control, consumers would be forced to absorb the cost of that risk in the form of higher prices. And, I should point out that it’s not just food prices we’re talking about. Look at cotton, and how this might impact the textile industry.
Q: For the benefit of those who are not involved in the business of agriculture, what would be the impact on the average farmer?
A: Using the proposal to do away with subsidized crop insurance as an example, which is similar to the National Flood Insurance Program. Without the subsidy, I can guarantee most independent farmers couldn’t afford that insurance. But at the same time, in such a highly-leveraged business, losing a single year’s crops to a natural disaster would put many independent farmers out of business. And that, in turn, would lead to a rapid takeover of the very “corporate agriculture” that people are so concerned about.
Q: The other part of the president’s proposed cuts involved the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as the food stamp program. Do farmers have a strong opinion on that entitlement program, since it doesn’t directly affect them?
A: Right now the nutrition programs as a whole represent 80 percent of the Farm Bill.
Farmers aren’t opposed to those programs, nor are we opposed to reforming them if there are ways they can be streamlined or made more efficient. To cut them out, however, would not be helping anyone — including farmers.
I believe the thought process is that eliminating the benefit card in favor of a monthly allotment of supplies delivered directly to the consumer would somehow cut the cost of the program while providing a revenue stream for farmers through the government buying those foods to distribute.
But I don’t know that I’m convinced. The cost of developing such a distribution network might offset any potential savings, and you still have the question of waste. How much goes unused and thrown away, or given by the recipient to someone else?
And having the government buy those foods instead of consumers buying them off store shelves is pretty much a wash for the farmer. Again, we recognize the need for reform, and we’re willing to do anything we can to make that happen, but this may be a better idea in theory than in practice.
Q: So, back to the original question — it would be safe to say that you will be more concerned when it comes time to hammer out a new Farm Bill than you are now about the president’s budget proposals?
A: Absolutely. Already the House and Senate Ag Committee chairs have gone on record opposing some of these ideas, but the budget makes clear where this administration’s points and priorities will be.
Everyone has their lines in the sand, and everyone — from lawmakers to agriculture groups like the Ohio Corn Growers, Soybean Association and Farm Bureau — will have a place at the table. We’ll just have to wait and see what agreements they can hammer out in that negotiation.
“Good Mornings!” with Chris Oaks airs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays on WFIN, 1330 kHz. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 419-422-4545.