the human cost of the farm bill blame-game

It’s really easy to play the blame game: Simply put, Washington, D.C. is currently maximizing its unideal partisan tendencies and getting nothing done. We can blame the left, we can blame the right (some more than others), but in reality, something — anything — just needs to happen.

When asked to comment on the failure of the House of Representatives to successfully pass Farm Bill legislation last week, Andy Novakovic, a professor of agricultural markets, economics and policy at Cornell — more specifically, dairy markets and policy (a course I took my junior year)— said:

“The vote was highly partisan. While this was expected, I am surprised at how highly partisan it was. Where one goes from here is indeed a conundrum. The Senate bill remains viable through the remainder of this 113th Congress. Regardless of this political strategy, it will be tough sledding to find a new way to package a farm bill that will get the requisite majority support.”

Dr. Novakovic served as Chair of the first Dairy Industry Advisory Committee under Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack.

So, if the Farm Bill provisions, which have been repeatedly pushed back as a chunk of the “Fiscal Cliff” we heard much about in the final days of 2012, fail to pass — and our elected “representative” politicians cannot agree on new legislation or extension of previous provisions, what happens? Some of my predicted possibilities:

  • Milk prices could fluctuate. If not extended, the Farm Bill’s failure could launch dairy milk prices to levels not seen since the Truman-era. This will wreak havoc on food prices, thus negatively affecting consumer behavior by destroying demand.
  • SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), or commonly known as food stamps, would be in for a rude awakening. Under current budget and policy, SNAP takes up a vast majority of spending (and proposed cuts). No one can agree on food stamps: do we need more regulation (i.e. restrict what one can buy, similar to the WIC program)? Or, do we need to cut SNAP benefits and establish work requirements for them?
  • Subsidies and farm supports/crop insurance could be cut, making agricultural production even more of a risk for farmers.

Reactions on Twitter were fierce from both sides of the political spectrum. Why? Because, as Margaret Smith, professor of plant breeding & genetics at Cornell University, recently explained, “Food is very intimate to people, and dismissing their concerns is not a wise strategy.”

A collection of my personal favorite reactions:

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This next stage of this inefficient process will definitely be a nail biter for anyone involved in agriculture — or anyone who eats … or drives their car … or, anything.

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