Farm bill affects far more than farmers

The farm bill is still in limbo. Many might say, “So what? It doesn’t affect me.” I beg to differ.

First off, what is the U.S. farm bill? It is a comprehensive piece of legislation that covers most federal government policies related to agriculture in the U.S. and much more. The last farm bill to be approved was in 2008, and it is typically renewed every five years.

The first farm bill was created in 1933 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Agricultural Adjustment Act, which provided subsidies to U.S. farmers in the midst of the Great Depression.

The federal government paid farmers to stop the production of seven main crops in the hope of decreasing the supply and thus increasing the prices of staple crops. The act also contained several provisions related to conservation, support for farmers suffering from effects of the Dust Bowl, and the storage of surplus harvests.

Although this act was later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, its basic premise was included in later Agricultural Adjustment Acts and eventually became the basis for all future U.S. farm bills.

The provisions of the farm bill are divided into what are called “titles,” which are categories related to food and farming in the U.S.

The 2008 farm bill approved $300 billion in mandatory spending. This amount does not include discretionary spending measures that are approved separately.

The biggest part of the bill is dedicated to nutrition, at 67 percent. Programs under this title include food stamps, WIC, food banks and school healthy snack and lunch programs.

Fourteen percent was dedicated to crop subsidies, which fall under commodity programs.

Conservation followed with 9 percent and 8 percent on crop insurance. The remaining 3 percent included credit, rural development, research, forestry, energy, livestock and horticulture/organic agriculture.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the 2008 farm bill spent less on traditional commodity programs, instead providing more funding for farm conservation, farm-based renewable energy programs, and agricultural export programs. In 2010 alone, approximately 80 percent of all spending from the farm bill went toward domestic food assistance programs and 10 percent toward commodity programs.

“The overall mission of the farm bill is to support the production of a reliable, safe and affordable supply of food and fiber; promote stewardship of agricultural land and water resources; facilitate access to American farm products at home and abroad; encourage continued economic and infrastructure development in rural America; and ensure continued research to maintain an efficient and innovative agricultural and food sector,” according to the Ohio Farm Bureau.

The farm bill is important to you and me. One in seven jobs in Ohio come from agriculture and related companies. There are 1,700 food processors in Ohio. Even if you don’t participate in any of the farm bill nutrition programs, you know someone who does.

The rest of the farm bill is directed to farm programs that benefit you as well. These programs ultimately have an effect on food prices. When you look at the big picture, farm programs receive support at one-fourth of 1 percent of the total federal budget.

Mary Smallsreed is a member of Trumbull County Farm Bureau and grew up on a family dairy farm in northeast Ohio.