Paying farmers what it’s worth

Our neighbours to the south are looking for their administration to announce de-tails, or trial balloons, on a new farm bill, which is due next year.

The U.S. farm bill covers everything from crop insurance and subsidy programs to food and nutrition programs for children and the poor.

The 2008 version was called the Food, Conservation and Energy Act, and the most recent was the Agricultural Act of 2014.

The next one’s name has been suggested by producers in North Dakota as the Food Security Act. They feel it should exist outside the usual vagaries of underfunding and upper house amending.

Farmers from the largest general farm organization in that state — the North Dakota Farmers Union, representing about 45,000 farming families — feel the future of American agriculture should be focused on issues that their fellow taxpayers can get behind.

Farmers and ranchers would receive payments tied to the production of high-quality food that maintains the low disposable income U.S. consumers now spend on food. Payments would also be tied to sound environmental practices, land stewardship, family farm structures with easily transferred generational ownership and education of new-entrant farmers, according to Starving Our Farmers, an NDFU position paper on the subject.

It feels the American family farm system of agriculture has generated an over-abundance of food to the point that American consumers spend less than 10 percent of their income on it.

However, farmers have kept food prices low, based on wherever the globally lowest priced production is, while society has been asking more of them. Food must not just be cheap — it must also be sustainable, eliminate water and air pollution, improve soil health and develop the next generations of farmers, which all require additional investment.

To meet those ends, the greater society must find ways to compensate farmers using more than global market forces. The American farm bills are designed to provide some social engineering, but when they are reinvented every five years or so, they leave little time to create substantive change or a new relationship with fellow taxpayers. Our neighbours in North Dakota might be onto something, albeit kind of socialist sounding.

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