Is a Farm Bill in the Future?

Lawmakers speaking to sorghum grower meeting note rising deficits and election-year politics could end program in the future. Dan Crummett

Published on: Feb 17, 2004

What would the future look like without a farm bill? It's a question that is apparently echoing through the halls of Congress these days, and it became public during the National Grain Sorghum Producers annual meeting in Little Rock, Ark., this week.

Southeast Arkansas Congressman Marion Berry challenged sorghum growers to consider the possibility of "No Farm Bill" in their thinking as they watch this year's budget deficit and election-year-driven legislative season.

"Right now things are quite positive in most farming areas because of the current strong farm bill. This bill was made possible by the tenacious performance of Texas Representatives Charlie Stenholm and Larry Combest," Berry notes, "But I just want you to include in your thinking, it may be the last of its kind."

Berry, a member of the predominantly southern fiscally conservative "Blue Dog Democrats" says although the projected budget figures from the Bush Administration reflect a $500 billion deficit in the short term, the real picture is far worse.

"When you factor in spending increases, tax cuts and the spending for "9-11" and the military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, plus you consider the money that has been drained from Social Security and funds like those promised to Veterans, at the current rate, in 10 years we will be $10 trillion in debt.

"Right now, we're happy to see the dollar devalued because it has boosted imports and increased our ability to sell U.S. goods and services. But a lowered dollar is a two-edge sword," Berry told the sorghum producers. "Right now China, Japan and the United Kingdom own a significant portion of the U.S. debt -- which has been incurred by deficit spending. Those nations won't stand long for returns they'll get on our lower valued dollar," he explains. "If we continue, our children will never be able to pay off this burden."

Because of the increasing national debt and current deficits, Berry says he fears any farm bill in the future will have no resemblance to the current law, which has breathed new vitality into much of the U.S. farm sector.

"Right now, there is pressure on to remove another $100 million out of ag budgets for education and research," Berry says. "This is the stupidest thing I've ever seen," he adds, noting within the next 10 years China will be putting 250 million more people to work who are better educated than most Americans. "We're not keeping up the infrastructure of our economy with the commitment to education and research that has been the engine of our success as a nation."

After the election year, however, new farm legislation will be in the offing. And that is when Berry says the debate could get very serious for U.S. agriculture interests. Looming deficits and the need to return to a balanced budget will put tremendous pressure on the government/agriculture financial relationship.