As the spring approaches and farmers start getting antsy to get out in the fields and begin another year on the farm, I thought it would be an opportune time to take a minute and discuss an issue that has garnered a lot of attention in the last couple of months — the 2014 Farm Bill.
As a fourth generation farmer and active member of the agriculture industry, I am aware of the importance and impact of this bill. However, it is always astonishing to me that this bill is so often seen so negatively, and that farmers and members of the agricultural industry are met with so much animosity by the general public when talking about this bill.
Therefore, it seemed appropriate to take a few minutes to share the details of the farm bill and help set the record straight.
First and foremost, I think it is most appropriate to share the actual appropriations of the bill. The farm bill is $956 billion. Of that, $756 billion is spent on food stamps and nutrition programs, also known as SNAP. This means that the food stamps and nutrition portion of the farm bill equates to 79.1 percent of the appropriated dollars for the entire bill. Crop insurance and commodity programs account for only 14 percent of the entire bill. I also would like to note that these two categories provide funding to farmers’ market programs, renewable energy programs, as well as food and crop research programs. The other 6.9 percent of the bill is spent on conservation and other programs.
What’s more, the 2014 Farm Bill contains many reforms including the elimination of direct payments to farmers, which will save taxpayers $24 billion over the next 10 years. The bill does not change program eligibility for nutrition assistance. Nor does the bill cut the current level of nutrition benefits for the approximately two million men, women and children in Illinois who need such assistance.
The major goal of the farm programs is to provide a safe, secure and affordable food supply to all Americans. In fact, Americans spend only 6.8 percent of their income on food, which is less than any other country in the world.
To put this in perspective, residents of the United Kingdom spend 8.9 percent on food, Argentinians spend 20.3 percent on food, and Chinese spend 34 percent on food. It really becomes easy to see how this bill impacts all Americans in such a positive way when we start comparing ourselves to the rest of the world.
I think it’s also worth noting that the United States supports farmers less than most other countries in the world. This is an important fact when you consider that we as farmers make up less than 2 percent of the entire U.S. population, but the agriculture industry is one of the largest sectors of business in the world. In fact, agriculture accounts for 17 percent of the entire U.S. workforce.
Each year, we are asked to produce more food at lower costs and in more sustainable ways. Fifty years ago, my grandfather was able to feed 26 people all year with his farm, and today I am able to feed 155 people all year!
I understand food stamp and nutrition programs are valuable programs to many Americans. However, farm supports and the farm bill are important, too. As you head to the grocery store this week, remember to think about where your food comes from, the details and importance of ag policy, and how fortunate we all are to have the safest and most affordable food supply in the world.
Evan Hultine is a resident of Princeton and serves as District 2 director of the Bureau County Farm Bureau Board. He also serves on the Illinois Farm Bureau Young Leader Committee, representing District 4.