National Security Isn’t Contingent on Having a “Safety Net” for Wealthy Farmers

Are taxpayer funded subsidies and corporate welfare for America’s wealthiest farmers and largest, most stable farms truly necessary for national security?

Rep. Rick Crawford, recently appointed to the House Republican farm bill conferee, thinks so:

As I have said on multiple occasions, having an adequate safety net for producers is a matter of national security.

As convincing as it may sound, this bold claim simply isn’t supported by the facts about farming and food production in America today.

It is 2013, and farming has developed into a technologically advanced, highly sophisticated industry; as Heritage puts it “agronomy, biotechnology, pest control, and disease management have profoundly reduced risk and improved productivity.”

Rep. Crawford and lawmakers who make similar claims about the connection between a farm bill – a “safety net for producers” – and national security interests ignore the current state of agriculture in the U.S.

A quick look about the facts behind the farm bill shows that national security will not be negatively affected by removing outdated, unnecessary “safety net” programs from the farm bill:

  • FACT: Net farm nominal income is at record levels, projected to be $121 billion in 2013.  When adjusted for inflation, projected net farm income in 2013 is still the second highest since 1974.
  • FACT: Based on the latest data (2011), the average farm household income was $87,278 compared to the average U.S. household income of $69,677, an incredible 25% difference.
  • FACT:  Large farms account for the bulk of food production in the U.S.  Farms with annual sales exceeding $250,000 constitute just 12 percent of farms in America, yet account for 84 percent of production value.
  • FACT: The number of farms also has dramatically changed, decreasing from a peak of 6.8 million in 1935 to 2.2 million in 2010. Large commercial farm households (farms with annual sales greater than $250,000), while representing only 10% of farm households, accounted for 82% of the value of total U.S. agricultural production in 2011.
  • FACT: 75 percent of large farms receive subsidies, while only 24 percent of small farms do.
  • FACT: Subsidies collected by large enterprises make it more difficult for small farms to stay in business.
  • FACT: The farm debt-to-asset ratio, which is a key indicator of the financial strength of farms, is expected to be 10.2% in 2013, which is its lowest level since 1960.
  • FACT: Americans are not just producing more than enough food to meet our own needs, but we are exporting more food than ever.  American agricultural exports are projected to be $139.5 billion in FY 2013, which would be a record high.
  • FACT: Farmers can take care of themselves, without the help of the American taxpayer and consumer.  Heritage notes, “There are several time-tested ways for farmers to manage risk without taxpayer subsidies, including futures contracts and hedging, crop diversification, credit reserves, and private insurance.”

The farm bill is full of outdated policies that serve to drive up prices for consumers, hit taxpayers wallets, and line the pockets of wealthy (and dead) farmers.

The farm bill has virtually nothing to do with national security, and until it is reformed, it will have everything to do with maintaining the status quo.

Unfortunately, Rep. Crawford is not alone in his outlandish assertion; lawmakers have been singing the same old song for many years.

Lawmakers eager to return home and tell their constituents they’ve preserved taxpayer-funded government subsidies have often made the national security claim.  In 2011, Sen. Chuck Grassley stated:

Not enough people appreciate that our ability to grow our own food is a national security interest.

But Heritage refuted this myth as far back as 2007:

Proponents contend that without subsidies, American farm products would be replaced by imports, leaving the United States dangerously dependent on foreigners for food. However, the United States currently grows more food than it needs to feed itself and exports a quarter of its production.  The lack of subsidies has not driven all beef, poultry, pork, fruit, and vegetable production out of America, nor would it drive away production of currently subsidized crops.

Indeed, the state of agriculture in the U.S. has only continued to improve financially, technologically, and in terms of production.

It is insult to farmers to suggest that they aren’t capable of growing food without government handouts.  Farmers and ranchers are innovative and don’t need massive subsidies to stay in business.

The farm bills go way beyond safety nets.  For example, the House and Senate bills have proposals that would force taxpayers to cover farmers’ minor losses (shallow loss program).  Further, paying millions of dollars for international marketing efforts for companies, intentionally driving up food prices such as with the sugar program, and the other centrally planned policies that dominate the farm bill have nothing to do with safety nets.  These programs also come at the expense of consumers and taxpayers.

Rep. Crawford does a disservice to the American taxpayer and consumer by claiming the farm bill needs to be passed to protect national security.  The farm bill is in desperate need of reform, and both the House and Senate passed farm bills fail to make necessary changes.   The bad news for taxpayers and consumers is that Rep. Crawford and more than two-dozen of his colleagues have been assigned as conferees for a farm bill conference with the Senate.   The policy results will more than likely be disastrous, because the bills they’re working with are just that.

Recall, the House separated the farm bill from food stamps to enable reform of the two programs. Yet, they are now putting food stamps back in the farm bill behind closed doors. The total price tag of this Frankenstein monster is $1 trillion.

Last week, we provided the preliminary list of House Republican farm bill conferees.

  • Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) 52%
  • Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) 72%
  • Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR) 68%
  • Rep. Steve King (R-IA) 75%
  • Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) 73%
  • Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) 49%
  • Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) 64%
  • Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) 59%
  • Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) 56%
  • Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) 41%
  • Rep. Jeffrey Denham (R-CA) 34%
  • Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL)*

The following representatives have been added to the finalized list:

  • Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) 85%
  • Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI)*
  • Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) 89%*
  • Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) 58%*
  • Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) 61%*

*Non-Committee Conferees

The Democrat conferees are:

  • Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) 34%
  • Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC)
  • Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) 17%
  • Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) 19%
  • Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) 14%
  • Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) 14%
  • Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) 9%
  • Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-CA)
  •  Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX) 19%
  • Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) 14%
  • Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) 12%
  • Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) 16%
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