If Barry Flinchbaugh is correct, the 2007 Farm Bill will feature marked changes from the current law. And Flinchbaugh probably knows - the Kansas State University agricultural economics professor has had a hand in crafting every Farm Bill since 1968.
"This farm bill fight will be all about providing a safety net under farm income, with minimal market distortion," says Flinchbaugh, who spoke at a Cereal Grains Media Summit sponsored by Bayer Crop Science preceding the North American Grain Congress in San Antonio over the weekend. "That's what the battle will be about. And remarkably enough, that's the fight of the Doha round [of WTO negotiations]."
Flinchbaugh says the next farm bill could be the beginning of the end of traditional farm policy. Changes he anticipates include:
- Marketing loan program and counter-cyclical program will freeze at current loan rates and market prices;
- Direct payments to farmers will increase 10%;
- Lawmakers will increase funding of the Conservation Security Program;
- Congress will channel $2 billion into a renewable energy policy;
- Crop insurance and risk management will be addressed separately.
Flinchbaugh, however, says the next farm bill should contain three provisions notably absent on this list. He would like to see implementation of a Farmers Savings Account, which would let farmers set-aside income in profitable years, tax-free, to offset poor income years.
The economist also advocates a complete overhaul of the crop and revenue insurance program, shifting oversight away from the USDA's Risk Management Agency and to the private industry. "They should take the government money issued and give farmers vouchers, to let them go shopping in the marketplace, which is a helluva lot more innovative than RMA," Flinchbaugh says.
Finally, Flinchbaugh believes the federal government should pay farmers to grow energy crops, such as switchgrass, "which the President mentioned in this year's State of the Union address."