Change is coming in farm policy thanks to the forces of globalization, dwindling budgets, WTO challenges, transparency of current programs and unmet needs of agriculture. "The status quo is no longer an option," says Ralph Grossi.
Grossi, president of Washington, D.C.-based American Farmland Trust, released an ambitious framework proposing alternatives to current farm program structures. AFT's released its report, Agenda 2007: A New Framework and Direction for U.S. Farm Policy, to get the dialogue rolling early on preparing for change and making the transition beneficial to farmers. Already former agriculture secretaries Dan Glickman and Clayton Yeutter threw their support behind the proposal.
Transition and transformation characterize the report. It's not just building on the status quo but brings the needed fundamental change from farm programs first launched in the depression years, Glickman explains.
The changes fit into the current baseline expenditures in agriculture, nearly $23 billion, while including all of agriculture. It's difficult to estimate if agriculture will even have that high of a baseline going into 2007, Grossi says. But he says AFT thought it "might be easier if we started with a different framework than piecemeal an old approach." The proposal calls for reduced "amber box" - or the most trade-distorting programs - and fits into the U.S. Trade Representative's October World Trade Organization proposal.
The AFT designed three pillars to support new farm policies: 1) a safety net; 2) environmental stewardship; and 3) new markets - all supported by a foundation of land, people, research and innovation. Major policy recommendations in the report include:
- "Green payments" to create greater incentives for farmers to deliver environmental benefits;
- Revenue-based risk management programs to replace countercyclical programs;
- A $1 billion grants program to foster innovative enterprises, markets and regional food systems; and
- A new cooperative conservation program to encourage further stewardship.
Green payments provide the recognition that farmers can and do preserve their environment by working on it. AFT recommends that over the life of the next farm bill direct payments are transitioned into green payments and funded at least at $5 billion. Growers who don't currently receive direct payments would also be eligible for green payments.
Stewardship payments function similar to current conservation programs. Grossi explains that one major policy recommendation is a new cooperative conservation program. In addition the framework simplifies conservation application processes.
Grossi says much of the success in agriculture comes from the entrepreneurial work of specialty and niche farmers, and he hopes other sectors can draw a lesson from that. The creation of a farm profitability grants program annually gives $1 billion in grants through state agricultural departments.
Yeutter explains that it is becoming more and more apparent that the current farm program structure encompasses a lot of market distorting policies, leading to challenges in the WTO. "We ought to be able to have the creativity to change that. We can deliver services to U.S. agriculture without exposing them to challenge by the global community. This framework lays out how," he says.