Growing concern over downturn in farm economy - Catholic Rural Life

Growing concern over downturn in farm economy

Catholic Rural Life • April 20, 2016

Ethical Food and Agriculture

USDA Committee Hearings on Farm Economy

When the country was going through the Great Recession of 2008-09, agriculture was one of the bright spots in the U.S. economy. The agricultural sector was still providing jobs and enjoying a trade surplus. But now, as the overall economy continues to recover, the farm economy has taken a turn for the worse.

In response, the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture has initiated a series of hearings entitled Focus on the Farm Economy. The six subcommittees on agriculture, each from its own perspective, will examine the growing pressure in rural America.

Catholic Rural Life is paying attention to the economic downtown in farm communities and will stay in touch with other family farm groups who are keeping an eye on policy responses and prospective changes.

NUTRITION: On April 28, the Nutrition subcommittee held the fourth hearing in the series, this one to examine the connection between U.S. farm policy and the stability of food prices for consumers. Committee members heard from a panel of witnesses who explained the role U.S. farm policies play in stabilizing retail food prices and the potential impact that shifts in food prices have on consumers.

Subcommittee chairwoman Jackie Walorski (R-IN) said that “while the average American spends less than 10 percent of their income on food, low-income households spend upwards of 35 percent of their income on food, making them more susceptible to swings in food prices.”

“As we begin work on the next farm bill,” she went on to say, “today’s conversation will play a critical role in helping us make informed decisions about good farm policies that impact both producers and consumers.”

Click here for more information about the Nutrition subcommittee hearing.

FOOD PRODUCTION & RESEARCH: On April 27, the subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research held a hearing to highlight the positive and negative factors impacting cost of production. This was the third hearing in the series Focus on the Farm Economy. Members heard from witnesses who provided insight into different programs and policies impacting farm efficiency, productivity, and profitability.

Click here for more details about this subcommittee hearing.

FARM COMMODITIES: In the first hearing on Apr. 14, members of the subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management heard testimony on the growing financial pressures faced by U.S. farmers and ranchers. One statistic mentioned is that net farm income has dropped 56 percent over the past three years alone. With low commodity prices, high input costs, and no relief in sight, policy makers are looking over the “safety net” of provisions in the Farm Bill and making sure support programs are helping our nation’s farmers and ranchers weather growing economic uncertainty.

Perspective of farmers, ranchers

One of the witnesses providing testimony at the hearing was Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU); his organization represents roughly 200,000 family farmers, ranchers, fishermen and rural members.

“There is growing pressure in the countryside as commodity prices continue to decline and farmers and ranchers struggle to adjust to lower prices,” he said.

“While still in the first few years of this downturn, forecasts by the USDA point to a prolonged period of depressed prices. Such a scenario has implications for producers accessing credit, negative farm budgets, depressed markets, tests to the safety net and increased demand for mediation services.”

His testimony went on to discuss these issues, but he also noted some of the positive trends in agriculture. It was interesting to see that organic and local foods sectors continue to grow and seem, for the most part, to be less subject to falling prices. See the release about Johnson’s testimony here.

FARM CREDIT: In the second hearing on Apr. 19, members of the subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit heard testimony examining the tightening credit conditions in farm country. Witnesses explained the impact the collapse in net farm income is having on the availability of credit, financial stress on both producers and credit providers, and the value of key producer assets such as land.

The remaining subcommittees to hold hearings are Conservation & Forestry and Livestock & Foreign Agriculture

HEARING YOUR VOICE: Low commodity prices hurt not just farmers and their families, but also thousands of others along the agri-food chain, including feedmill workers, input suppliers, and agricultural support services, as well as the tax base of rural communities.

Catholic Rural Life is working with those who advocate for policies that support not only family farms and ranches, but the welfare of communities where they live. We welcome comments and feedback from our wide network and website visitors; please contact Robert Gronski to share the kinds of policies most needed to give hope to family farms and rural America.

NFU Survey: Voice of the Farmer

On a related note, the National Farmers Union is currently seeking the voice of their farmer members in both an online survey and a series of listening sessions across the country. NFU President Roger Johnson says this will help “to better gauge the effectiveness of current farm policies and identify our advocacy priorities for the next Farm Bill process.”

The survey will remain open through the end of July, after which responses will be analyzed by NFU staff to establish policy proposals and engage partners for the upcoming Farm Bill debate.

“An educated and vocal membership is one of the things that makes NFU such a strong grassroots organization,” Johnson said. “We need to hear from a large number of our members to make sure the farm bill addresses the most serious challenges, including climate change and market consolidation, facing rural America today.”

Farmers and ranchers are invited to complete the NFU Farm Bill survey.


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