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2001 Policy Positions
of the Southern Legislative Conference

POLICY POSITION U.S. FARM POLICY AND THE 2002 FARM BILL


BACKGROUND

U.S. farm policy should ensure food and fiber production for domestic consumption and export, an adequate base of agricultural land for current and future generations, and fair competitive markets among producers at all levels. Central to this policy is the understanding that agriculture is critical to national security and is of importance to all Americans. It is necessary that farm policy provide for viability of producers, access to fair markets domestically and internationally, and a predictable and transparent regulatory framework.

U.S. agriculture and agricultural producers are under increasing pressure from a number of sources. The fundamental changes made in the 1996 Farm Bill have provided farmers with greater flexibility, but have also made them more vulnerable to fluctuations in the market and the vagaries of the global marketplace. Existing programs to provide support for farmers have proven costly and inefficient at resolving the root causes for depressed prices. Furthermore, new demands are being placed on private landowners to provide environmental services, which raise the costs of operations and increases the complexity of regulatory compliance. A changing domestic marketplace has also raised concerns among producers, who are often left with a limited number of outlets for their produce, raising serious questions about the integrity of the open and competitive marketplace.

RECOMMENDATION

At the center of any safety net for farmers needs to be support in the form of counter-cyclical assistance and conservation payments. Counter-cyclical programs must recognize regional differences and utilize regional priorities and performance to determine implementation. In the presence of adequate counter-cyclical support for farmers, decoupled payments are not a priority.

As part of the counter-cyclical safety net, the Committee calls for the retention of current marketing loan rates and the creation of a supplemental income program that recognizes the special characteristics of the South. Such a program should retain crop specificity and not aggregate across crops.

Farm savings accounts—tax-deferred accounts farmers may use to shelter funds in good years to be accessed in bad years—are considered worth developing as a potential resource for farmers, but should not take the place of an adequate counter-cyclical safety net.

Conservation programs, including the Conservation and Wetland Reserve Programs and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, are a vital part of the total agriculture safety net and should be retained and expanded. Increasing allowable reserve program acreage would provide benefits to a greater number of farmers and expand the environmental benefits as well. Furthermore, by providing more flexible program commitments (both longer and shorter) program involvement can match the flexibility enjoyed by producers under other farm programs.

In order to further the goal of the preservation of productive agricultural capacity, the Committee encourages the expansion of matching funds to state purchase of development rights and purchase of agricultural conservation easement programs with increased flexibility for state program guidelines.

The shifting structure of agriculture is having a negative impact on farm producers. Trends toward consolidation, concentration, and integration are limiting producers’ options and influence in the market. It is in the interest of a stable, open, competitive food and fiber system to have producers and agricultural business entities operate on equal footing in the market.

The trend toward contract production in several sectors and the growth of captive supply for processors requires serious scrutiny in how this will impact producer marketing options and the future of a fair and open market.

To further the aims of an open market, the SLC Agriculture & Rural Development Committee encourages support and additional resources for USDA merger and antitrust investigation and enforcement activities.

Trade being critical to the continued health of American agriculture, the SLC Agriculture and Rural Development Committee calls for expanded support for the export promotion and market development programs of the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service and the augmentation of existing commodity programs.

Support for American agriculture should extend to the identification of products of foreign origin, including meat, at the retail level. USDA certification of inspected meat should be changed to indicate product of domestic or foreign origin.

The USDA should create a clearinghouse of scientific information related to food safety and actively promote its use. As part of this, the USDA should increase funding to state institutions for research on the health and safety of genetically-modified organisms.

In order to encourage farmers of the future to enter the field and to improve the understanding of the importance of agriculture to all Americans, the SLC supports increased resources dedicated to research, extension and promotion of agriculture. In addition to traditional extension programs, the SLC encourages the support of agricultural education curriculum specialists in state departments of agriculture through USDA-sponsored grants.

The SLC Agriculture and Rural Development Committee encourages relief for family farmers from estate and capital gains taxes for farm operations that remain in production agriculture.

Increasing regulatory standards in the United States put domestic producers at a disadvantage in the global market. Supporting high and consistent standards globally for environmental, labor, and safety regulations is vital for the health of the global environment, the economy and the food supply.

Access to reasonable credit is critical to farmer survival and should be fully supported by Congress. Furthering access to affordable credit should be a priority for U.S. farm policy.

 

Adopted by the Southern Legislative Conference, July 17, 2001, Savannah, Georgia.

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