The 2012 Farm Bill debate hasn't started in earnest yet farm programs have been a hot topic of discussion in the nation's capital. According to Ohio State University Ag Economist Carl Zulauf two major, powerful forces are converging this year resulting in the focus on farm policy.
"The first is short-term in nature and that is the current focus on the budget deficit and the desire to bring the budget deficit down and looking for savings in farm programs," Zulauf said. "The second is a longer term change in U.S. agriculture that has resulted in an increasing discussion of whether or not the current farm programs are really appropriate for the structure of U.S. agriculture that exists today."
Zulauf says that's not a new discussion and suggests farm safety net programs must meet the needs of modern agriculture. He says there has been an increasing concern that the safety net does not match up with the current needs of U.S. agriculture. That's why Zulauf says change is coming and agriculture must get involved. But he says agriculture can, and should ensure any changes are made in a strategic, big picture way.
Looking at it as an economist, Zulauf believes a good safety net program that meets the current needs of the farm sector will include four key elements.
"It should be oriented to the market; use the private to help guide, to help set the parameters of the policy," Zulauf said. "The policy should be very transparent – it should be clear what the policy is trying to accomplish and clear how it is being put into operation. It should be accountable to the taxpayers; one should not receive a farm program payment unless one has experienced a loss. The fourth thing is I think the program should be simple, it should be efficient; and what we mean by efficiency is that the different parts of the safety net should work together."
Perfect integration of the various farm safety net programs is likely too much to ask. Zulauf says there are too many factors that would prevent complete integration. But he says it's not unreasonable to ask those crafting the farm bill to look for areas that can be more coordinated.