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Column: Long-overdue farm bill cuts our nation's deficit by $24 billion

By RYAN BUCK, Minnesota Corn Growers Association

GOODHUE — It took more than three years, numerous partisan speed bumps were hit along the way and the legislation isn’t perfect, but we finally have a farm bill that provides farm families with the certainty they need while also reducing our nation’s deficit by $24 billion over the next 10 years.

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The bill was passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by President Obama, making agriculture the only sector that has contributed to deficit reduction during the 113th Congress.

It’s important to remember that farm bills are written for the bad times in agriculture. When Mother Nature wipes out crops or market factors send prices tumbling, a good farm bill helps us survive to farm another year and continue growing the food, feed, fiber and fuel to meet the demands of a growing world population.

In an ideal world, farmers would never have to make a claim on their crop insurance policy or use one of the farm bill’s safety net programs. But it is nice to know they exist in case they are needed. This farm bill provides the peace of mind farm families need, while also addressing our nation’s deficit — an issue both farmers and non-farmers are concerned about.

Now, don’t get me wrong: the process wasn’t anything for leaders in Washington to be proud of. Taking more than three years to pass a farm bill was completely unnecessary and was yet another example of partisanship raging out of control in our nation’s capital.

But just because the process was torturous, it doesn’t mean we should ignore what the bill achieves, especially in the area of deficit reduction.

Since 1999, federal spending on farm policies and crop insurance has fallen from $22.3 billion per year to $14 billion. In the last six years, federal spending on crop insurance has been cut by $17 billion.

That’s real savings, not accounting gimmicks. The new farm bill makes $13 billion in cuts to farm programs, which continues a 15-year trend of decreased spending on what many refer to as the farm “safety net.”

In the new farm bill, direct payments are gone. So are other components of the farm safety net and 100 other programs. These concessions were necessary to ensure that a farm bill was passed that achieved deficit reduction, and met the needs of today’s farm families in a way that makes the most sense for everyone.

Agriculture’s critics enjoy taking shots at the farm bill — often on the editorial pages of big city newspapers. A recent editorial in The Washington Post called the new farm bill “corporate welfare” and “federal largess.” Another editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said the farm bill only benefits big corporate farms.

Of course, neither editorial mentioned the reduction in farm program spending since 1999 or the important role crop insurance, which farmers pay for, played in helping a lot of Minnesota corn farmers pull through after a wet spring prevented planting.

Both editorials also ignored the fact that 95 percent of our nation’s corn farms are family-owned. Unfortunately, it’s been difficult to advance the discussion on ag policy in this country because a lot of mainstream media outlets lazily label all farming as “corporate” or are unable to provide actual insight into farm policy instead of the usual outdated talking points and political rhetoric.

It might not feel like it now, but soon this Polar Vortex will give way to sunshine and another planting season. When I’m in the fields this spring, it will be nice to know that we finally have a new farm bill that allows farm families to plan for the next five years and also contributes to deficit reduction.

Ryan Buck is a corn and soybean farmer in Goodhue and president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.