I often hear that the U. S. farm bill is “a large omnibus piece of legislation” that cannot readily be understood. This view lends itself to mystification and powerlessness.
In fact, I find that many groups, including most of the mainstream media and most progressives, failed to understand the core of the U.S. farm bill during the debate on the 2007/2008 farm bill.
As I see it, there are three parts to the farm bill. The core of the U.S. farm bill is the Commodity Title. Historically, by my calculations, the Commodity Title has had an impact at the multitrillion dollar level. Yearly it involves the “Big Billions,” (which, by the way, don’t show up in the budget, and aren’t discussed at WTO).
The Nutrition Title, which includes food stamps, is larger than the Commodity Title in terms of appropriations, but not in terms of economic impact world wide. The Nutrition Title is placed in the farm bill and not in, for example, Health and Human Services, primarily for political reasons. In this way rural and urban members of congress theoretically work together. “You support me and I’ll support you.”
I place the remaining farm bill titles in the “Other” category. They address a variety of special needs. Many of them are important, often both in terms of doing bad things and in potentially doing good things (ie. research that destroys local food systems, or that helps local food systems). Some are large in terms of money (ie. Farm Credit) or impact (ie. Competition Title that could potentially check corporate market exploitation).
As an introductory article on the Commodity Title of the U.S. Farm Bill I recommend: “Ensure That Farmers Have Fair Living Wage,” from the Federation of Southern Land Cooperatives, Land Assistance Fund. (The link on their site didn’t work for me so find it here: (http://lists.iatp.org/listarchive/archive.cfm?id=121152).
For an introduction to the purpose of the Commodity Title I recommend starting with two short articles By Dr. Daryll E. Ray at the University of Tennessee. These are:
at http://agpolicy.org/weekcol/325.html and,
at http://agpolicy.org/weekcol/248.html. They’re also available in pdf format.
For further study on the purpose of the farm bill see Ray’s:
at http://www.agpolicy.org/ppap/doc/2004/RayLecture2004FromGretchen1st.pdf. The powerpoint presentation that goes with this piece is linked at: http://www.agpolicy.org/present04.html.
For a broader historical background that corrects many of the current misunderstandings among progressives and the mainstream media, I recommend two historical booklets which are available online:
by Mark Ritchie and Kevin Ristau, at http://www.iatp.org/iatp/publications.cfm?accountID=258&refID=48644 and, the booklet for the United Farmer and Rancher Congress. Most of the booklet is best featured in the following updated links.
by George Naylor and Bert Henningson, Jr., at http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/ra07/crisis_86.html, with foot notes at http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/ra07/crisis_86fn.html; and,
by George Naylor, Jim Dubert, Bert Henningson, Jr. and Curt Stofferahn, at http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/ra07/farmbill_86.html, with footnotes at http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/ra07/farmbill_86fn.html. The full booklet is available in pdf at http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/ra07/ufrc_all_lo.pdf.
For recent footnoted booklets on the U.S. farm bill Commodity Title, I recommend three sources. These are: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,
“A Fair Farm Bill . . .” series
at http://www.agobservatory.org/issue_farmbill.cfm. Food and Water Watch,
pdf at http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/food/agricultural-policy/us-farmbill/Farm%20Bill%20April%202007.pdf. Daryl E. Ray,
at http://www.agpolicy.org/blueprint.html (includes full report, Executive Summary, and report presentation).
For analysis from African American Farmers see:
"U.S. Cotton Program and Black Cotton Farmers in the United States,"
Beware of the footnoted documents of other groups. I find extensive false information and major omissions in a number of these reports (ie. Bread for the World’s "Hunger 2007," Oxfam’s “Fairness in the Fields” and “Farm Bill 101,” Church World Service’s “Sowing Justice For Family Farmers Everywhere,”).
Major “sustainable agriculture” networks and coalitions, (ie. The National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, various regional “SAWGs,” The California Coalition for Food and Farming) and many other related groups and coalitions (ie. Food and Farm Policy Project) often do not include information on “core” farm bill issues, including massive corporate, off budget gains under the Commodity Title.
It appears clear that, should market conditions return to what they were throughout most of the 20th century (and 21st), the recently passed farm bill will fail. This could lead to emergency farm bill legislation sooner than expected for the multiyear bill.
It is important that farmers and the justice community get prepared soon, and overcome the massive divisions and misunderstandings we had during 2007-2008.
The lead U.S. coalition on core (Commodity Title) farm bill issues is the National Family Farm Coalition (nffc.org). Unlike virtually all other policy recommendations of progressive groups during the 2007-2008 issue, they alone, (NFFC members and partners, and with extensive world wide support,) proposed price floors with supply management to end dumping, and commodity reserves with price ceilings to address the food crisis. See their "Food from Family Farms Act" at: http://www.nffc.net/Learn/page-learn.htm#factsheets and http://www.nffc.net/Learn/Fact%20Sheets/FFFA2007.pdf