Seventy-six percent of the total farm bill budget is devoted to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and other direct food assistance initiatives, explained Dale Moore, executive director of public policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation. Part of the other 24 percent of the farm bill budget offers risk management support for farmers by providing them the option to purchase insurance to cover losses from extreme weather, pests or disease.
“In other words, like anyone else in private business, no individual farm owner is assured an income, but due to the importance of food security and other dividends agriculture provides, the public is asked to share some of the risk,” Moore said. Risk management helps keep the retail price of U.S. food far below that paid in most other nations, he added.
“Farmers in Virginia and across the county are not the only ones who benefit from the farm bill,” said Tony Banks, commodity marketing specialist for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Everyone, whether they realize it or not, relies on agriculture. That’s why there is so much emphasis placed on the farm bill.”
He explained that the farm bill “helps ensure a safe, affordable and abundant food supply by promoting food security through market competition, quality assurance and trade. The variety and quantity of high-quality foods available to the American consumer is due in part to federal farm policies contained within the farm bill.”
The farm bill also helps farmers implement conservation practices. “Conserving the environment and our natural resources is a shared priority on many different levels for both consumers and farmers,” Banks noted.
The 1981 Farm Bill was the first to include conservation provisions. Today, much of the federal assistance is tied to cost-share programs that require farmers to supplement or fully match the money they receive for conservation practices on their farms. The farm bill helps fund conservation programs that protect wetlands, enhance wildlife and reduce soil erosion.
Since the conservation programs were introduced in the 1981 bill, farmers have made huge reductions in their environmental footprint, Moore said. For corn grown on a per-unit-of-output basis, land use is down 41 percent, soil loss is down 58 percent, irrigation water and energy use are down 46 and 41 percent, respectively, and greenhouse gas emissions are down 31 percent. Similar numbers hold for barley, cotton, soybeans, rice, sugar beets and wheat, which represent nearly all of the major row crops grown on 225 million acres, Moore said.