This is the question that needs to be answered before the U.S. Congress passes the next Farm Bill, according Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh. He’s the professor emeritus of Agricultural Economics at Kansas State Univ. and a long-time advisor on ag policy to politicians of both parties. If you ever have the chance to hear him speak, he’s worth a listen. He’s humorous but intense in expressing his views on just about everything ag.

Having served as a policy advisor on every Farm Bill since 1968, he describes agriculture’s position in our nation’s capital by asking the questions, “How many acres of wheat are grown in Washington D.C.? How many cattle are fed there?” Of course, the answer is none, but he adds that a friend of his says they do slop quite a few hogs there.

Last week, Dr. Flinchbaugh spoke to the Farm Equipment Manufacturers Assn. in Indianapolis about the next Farm Bill. He says there are six major issues surrounding the legislation:

1. Budget (“Everything in D.C. is driven by the budget. The greatest and most prosperous nation on earth has operated without a budget for 4 years. They just pass continuing resolutions.”)

2. Food Stamps

3. Permanent Legislation (Farm Bill became permanent in 1938.)

4. Crop Insurance

5. Target Price vs. Target Revenue

6. Planted Acres vs. Historical Base Acres

While each is vital to the ultimate success of the Farm Bill, when it’s all said and done, Flinchbaugh says it really comes down to food stamps vs. crop insurance. On that topic, he adds, that the SNAP program (food stamps) should not be separated as some in Congress are pushing. He also pointed to a survey in which 45% of the farmers polled wanted food stamps removed from the Farm Bill. The House of Representatives want to cut $40 billion from food stamps and the Senate wants to reduce SNAP spending by $4 billion.

Flinchbaugh calls the fight highly partisan where “wing nuts” on both the left and the right are unwilling to compromise on the matter.

“The radical left views food stamps as the number one program for poor folks; moderate republicans and democrats view crop insurance as a safety net for family farmers; far right are anarchists who support nothing,” says Flinchbaugh.

To further illustrate his point about how “idiotic” the debate has become, he says, “When right wing republicans suggested a drug test should be required to get food stamps, Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker of the House, suggested that a drug test should be required to get crop insurance.”

Should food stamps be part of the Farm Bill? “Hell yes,” says Flinchbaugh. He points out that with 400 urban districts in the U.S. and only 35 rural districts, “Who needs who?”

“How do you get congressman from downtown to vote for the Farm Bill?” he asks. “Put food and nutrition in it. As for trying to cut food stamps, this is an entitlement program and would be funded at the current rate — like Social Security — regardless if it’s in the Farm Bill or not,” says Flinchbaugh.

But one of the ramifications of separating the SNAP program from ag legislation, according to Flinchbaugh, includes removing 85% of the USDA budget. “All nutrition will go to Health & Human Services, all conservation would go to the Dept. of the Interior, all ag trade would go to Commerce, energy programs would go to DOE so ag would have no input into biofuels and renewable energy. All environmental programs (pesticide, climate) would be gone from USDA and go to EPA. We would lose our seat in the cabinet. This would not be fun and games!”

What Flinchbaugh would like to see is a modern Farm Bill based on risk management vs. the traditional direct payments to farmers. He believes we’ll see a new ag legislation, but it will be rolled into a larger omnibus budget deal that will pass by January 15. 

And why exactly should dealers and manufacturers concern themselves with the Farm Bill? Because, Flinchbaugh says, an awful lot of ag machinery is purchased with government farm payments.