Ag producers pushing for separation from nutrition programs in farm bill | TheFencePost.com

Ag producers pushing for separation from nutrition programs in farm bill

Eric Brown
Greeley, Colo.

One thing is for sure regarding the farm bill: Many more discussions will take place before a new one is passed. And talks that some northern Colorado farmers and ranchers would like to have focus on a separation of agriculture-production programs from the nutrition subsidies and others included in the farm bill – either in name, or by placing the two in completely separate pieces of legislation.

During farm bill discussions in Greeley and across Weld County, producers have expressed concern in that much of the general public doesn’t realize less than 25 percent of the money spent in the current farm bill benefits agriculture production, while the majority goes toward school lunches, food stamps and other nutrition programs.

With about $288 million having gone into the current farm bill – passed in 2008 and set to expire Sept. 30 of this year – producers believe the term “farm bill” gives agriculture a black eye, leaving the public to falsely believe the ag industry is too heavily subsidized and can’t function without the government’s help.

Because the current farm bill is set to expire this year, U.S. lawmakers are in the midst of discussions in piecing together the 2012 farm bill – although, with 2012 being an election year, many believe a new bill won’t pass until next year.

Last month at a farm bill meeting with Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., local producers requested changing the name of the farm bill to the “Food Bill,” (the 2008 farm bill is actually titled the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, but is still commonly referred to as the “farm bill”) while some said they believe it would be best if nutrition programs and agriculture-production programs went their separate ways all together.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize where all that money is going, and we’re getting a bad name in the meantime,” Nunn-area dairyman Charles Tucker said in an interview last week.

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In addition to producing milk, Tucker is a Weld County District 1 councilman who believes a complete separation from non-agriculture-production programs would be best for farmers – not just a change in the name of the farm bill.

When confronted with such requests, Gardner has aired caution, explaining that with so few congressmen having ties to the agriculture industry today, farmers and ranchers need the nutrition programs to get urban support for a farm bill.

Without support for a bill from the urban community, farmers and ranchers – who make up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population – could get less support and less money than they do now, Gardner and other experts say.

Wayne Mininger, the executive vice president of the National Onion Association in Greeley, made mention of the idea of separating agriculture production from nutrition programs, but said he also understands and identifies with Gardner’s concerns.

“I understand farmers’ worries, in that the general public thinks this government money is all going into agriculture … but a complete separation from these other nutrition programs could end up being a poor choice for farmers,” he said. “I don’t see it realistically happening.”

But Tucker believes agriculture could survive on its own.

“I think people are well aware of the fact we have a rapidly growing population, and that food shortages are a serious threat if we don’t support agriculture,” said Tucker, who like many others, is also concerned that, because farmers have had record-income years lately, the percentage of dollars going toward ag-production programs could get cut, and instead, go toward nutrition programs in the farm bill at a time when the economy is still not up to par and many people rely on food stamps.

“I realize many cuts in spending need to be made, and I think agriculture producers are willing to let some programs go,” he said. “But being tied up with these other programs will only make things worse going forward … both in taking away more dollars for agriculture production, and in giving us a bad name.”