Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

July 2, 2013

Farm Bill failure hurts hard-working farmers and taxpayers

The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — This column was submitted by  Luke Messer.

“And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker,’ and so God made a farmer.”  So said American icon Paul Harvey about the never-ending challenges our nation’s farmers endure as they work to caretake the land and feed our families.  

Farming is hard work and its vital to Indiana.  Ag industries contribute almost $38 billion a year to the Hoosier economy, supporting nearly 190,000 jobs.  The farmers who provide these jobs work from dusk until way past dawn and face great risks when withering droughts or excess rains threaten to wreck their crops.  Despite these challenges, Hoosier farmers manage to overcome adversity, succeed in their businesses and feed the world.  Too often, their work is made even harder because of uncertainty and inefficiencies in federal farm policy.

The problems with federal farm laws are many: price supports inflate the prices of some consumer goods; payments are made to people not actually farming; outdated and duplicative programs waste money that could be put to better use; rules regarding disaster assistance are too complicated; and they fail to provide enough certainty about whether and what return farmers will receive when they reinvest any profits in the family business. 

Many are surprised that supplemental nutrition assistance, commonly called food stamps, is administered by the Department of Agriculture (USDA). Most agree the program is not well managed.  It pays too many people who should not be eligible for help, diverting help from those who really need the assistance.  There aren’t enough incentives to encourage people to find work.  And there is too much waste, fraud, and abuse.   

Unfortunately, the House just rejected a bill to address many of these problems.  The Farm Bill, which I supported, was not perfect.  But, it would have saved $40 billion over the next decade, in part by repealing or consolidating more than 100 programs that don’t work, could work better, or are duplicative in purpose. The bill would have stopped the nonsense policy of paying people not to farm.  And instead, it would give farmers greater flexibility to utilize federally-backed crop insurance to manage risk.  It also would have required food stamp recipients to work more, get drug tested and become self-sufficient.  

The defeat of the Farm Bill maintains the status quo.  That hurts farmers and taxpayers. Both need the certainty of knowing that farm and nutrition assistance programs work as they should so scarce taxpayer resources aren’t wasted on food stamp fraud or on programs that just don’t work.  We need common sense farm policy reform to prevent waste and make sure the next generation of farmers get their chance to run the family farm.

Luke Messer is the Congressman for Indiana’s 6th Congressional District, a 19 county region of east-central and southeastern Indiana comprised of manufacturing and agricultural communities.