Schaffer Sees Danger In Current Ag Policy

Tennessee agriculture analysis veteran speaks to Texas Farmers Union annual convention in Abilene and voices concerns over farm law.

Published on: Jan 28, 2013

The extension of the 2008 Farm Bill for 9 months through September 2013 is a scary thing, a policy expert told the 111th annual Texas Farmers Union state convention in Abilene.

Dr. Howard Schaffer of the University of Tennessee's Agriculture Analysis Center said both the U.S. Senate and the House Agriculture Committee's proposed full five-year farm bill that failed to get through Congress last year would have been preferable. A five-year bill would have given more direction.

"The House and Senate weren't perfect, but were better than what we have now," he said.

He noted that just because the current extension may include a variety of supports on paper, the money must be appropriated by Congress.  It could be taken away through sequestration as agriculture satisfies severe budget cuts.

TALK AGRICULTURE. From left, Wes Sims, Texas Farmers Union president, Claudia Svarstad, National Farmers Union vice president, and Dr. Howard Schaffer of the University of Tennessees Agriculture Analysis Center, discuss agriculture issues at the 111th annual Texas Farmers Union Convention in Abilene.
TALK AGRICULTURE. From left, Wes Sims, Texas Farmers Union president, Claudia Svarstad, National Farmers Union vice president, and Dr. Howard Schaffer of the University of Tennessee's Agriculture Analysis Center, discuss agriculture issues at the 111th annual Texas Farmers Union Convention in Abilene.

The danger, as Schaffer sees it, would be a collapse of farm prices with no meaningful floor of price support.

He said if the U.S., Brazil, and others go wild planting corn because of current strong prices, corn prices could plummet just as fast as they went up. A return to favorable weather in the Midwest could mean a 16-billion bushel U.S. corn crop.

If there were such a bumper crop across the Corn Belt, Schaffer said it wouldn't take long for corn growers in the Midwest to see depressed prices like cotton growers in the South have seen from a burdensome supply of cotton. If the payment limit were $50,000, it would not take a farm in today's world long to hit that, he noted.

Schaffer also said crop insurance needs to be tweaked to where growers have more protection when prices are low.

Wes Sims, president of the Texas Farmers Union and a Sweetwater farmer, said he is thankful that wind turbines and ethanol still are both seeing support from the current Obama Administration. He said if the past November Presidential Election had gone the other way, the federal support for such alternative energy projects would have gone away.

Sims, who has been president of TFU for the past 18 years, credited the National Farmers Union for playing a big role in keeping federal policy that's favorable to renewable fuels.

He said as farm policy is reorganized, it is a certainty that Southern states will be aiming to protect their major crops like cotton.  But passing meaningful farm legislation is going to be a challenge, he observed. He also cautioned that farmers should never be complacent.

Claudia Svarstad, vice president of the National Farmers Union, also spoke to the Texas convention. Svarstad, whose family farms in the South Dakota, said producers must have some meaningful price protection for agricultural commodities.

 "Crop insurance is vital for our farmers," she said. "But it's not perfect."

Corn and soybeans are the main crops in South Dakota, Svarstad said.

As far as 2013, Svarstad said she sees a continuing trend to more soybeans and less corn there.

In addition to great discussion on a farm bill, the TFU state convention delegation also focused much attention on water, education, and health care issues, among other concerns.