I’m stepping outside of my realm of ag equipment here, and I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know. But the biggest problem with the U.S. Farm Bill is that it doesn’t have enough “farm” in it.

You can argue numbers if you want to, but the fact of the matter is only about 20-33% of the “Farm Bill” is about farming and/or farmers. The rest is classified under “nutrition,” which is a code word for food stamps. Can you imagine how the nature of the debate would change if these two distinctly different programs — nutrition and agriculture — were separated?

First of all, the name of the food stamps program was changed to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to put a positive spin on a welfare program. 

Even the formal name of the legislation changes from one bill to the next to emphasize that it’s a “farm bill” and to conceal its emphasis on food welfare. In 2008, the last time the Farm Bill was approved, it was called the Food, Conservation and Energy Act. This time around, H.R. 1947 is formally referred to as the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013.

According to SNAP to Health, an advocacy group pushing to improve the nutrition and health of Americans on SNAP, in 2008 about two-thirds, or 67%, of the spending in the bill were allocated toward nutrition, followed by agricultural subsidies (15%), conservation (9%) and crop insurance (8%). The remaining 3% included credit, rural development, research, forestry, energy, livestock, and horticulture/organic agriculture.

Heritage Action for America, which is heading up a coalition of conservative organizations that are pushing to get the actual farm bill separated from food stamps, says “less than 20% of this nearly $1 trillion piece of legislation actually contains agriculture-related programs. The remaining 80% is composed of food stamps.”

The group reports that it has been the “nutrition” part of the bill that has grown and not the “farm” portion of spending under the Farm Bill.

“In 2000, 17 million individuals received food stamps, but by 2008 that number ballooned to nearly 31 million. Now, nearly 48 million individuals are on the program. Spending on food stamps has doubled since 2008, with taxpayers spending nearly $40 billion on the program in 2008 to an unprecedented $80 billion in 2012. Roughly 1 in 7 Americans are currently on food stamps.”

At the same time, Farm Policy Facts, an farming advocacy group, maintains that total government spending on farm safety net programs — including all commodity programs and crop insurance — dropped by two-thirds from fiscal years 2000 to 2012, according to data provided by USDA and the Congressional Budget Office. The reduction took place as spending on commodity programs — including direct, counter-cyclical, loan deficiency and other payments which once represented the lion’s share of safety net spending — has been slowly phased down in favor of crop insurance, which is partially self-funded through farmer premiums and farmer deductibles.

“In 2000, nearly $28 billion was spent on commodity programs and less than $3 billion on crop insurance. Over the course of 12 years, the overall amount of spending slowly but consistently fell and commodity spending and crop insurance spending equalized. In 2012, total farm safety net spending was $10 billion, and was split equally between the two,” Farm Policy Facts says.

In other words, the debate over the Farm Bill is distorted and creates enormous misconceptions about government support of agriculture vs. nutrition. These should be two distinct conversations and need to be separated.