Saturday, July 13, 2013

US House Passes Farm Bill

The Republicans in the House of Representatives made two curious decisions in passing a farm bill this past week.

First, they split food stamps (SNAP - Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and the commodity programs (crop insurance, subsidies, etc.).  Food stamps and commodity programs have been rolled together since the 1960s in part as a way to gain wide support for passage of farm legislation, as the combination brought together urban and rural supporters.  (Although, rural and farm state votes have always been the key to passing farm legislation.)

Second, the House bill removes the permanent legislation from 1949.  In past farm bills, the 1949 remained the permanent legislation and would kick in if the more current legislation expired.  This was the situation at the beginning of this year, when an amendment was put in the budget bill to avoid milk policy from reverting back to 1949.

These are each significant changes in agricultural policy and the politics of farm bills.  So, they're something to keep an eye on.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Changes Coming in US Food Aid?

According to this New York Times article from April 4, the Obama Administration is considering changes to the system of US food aid.

Since its creation in 1954, US food aid has worked basically like this:  the federal government buys grains or other food stuffs from US farmers, then ships it abroad to help feed poor people in other countries.

This system of food aid was created at a time when there was a large surplus of wheat in the US.  Food aid (also known as Public Law 480, or PL 480) was designed to draw down government-owned stocks of grain.

At its best, PL 480 represented an attempt to help those in need.  At its worst, food aid "dumped" cheap food on foreign markets with numerous deleterious effects.

Critics of the program have long argued that it undermines agriculture in recipient nations.  Grain farmers in recipient nations find it difficult to compete with subsidized grain from the US.  The result is often a shift in diets, especially in urban areas, as wheat replaces such as corn or maize, rice, or other domestic/traditional grains.

As with any change in agricultural policy, we will see if the opposing coalition is strong enough to prevent the change.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Global Outlook Symposium in Sweden

I just returned from Stockholm, Sweden, where I participated in the Global Outlook Symposium that was part of the celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry.

I was part of the opening panel, which explored agricultural policies in the EU, the US, and New Zealand.  I talked about the US, Alan Swinbank discussed the Common Agricultural Policy of the EU, and Philipp Aerni talked about New Zealand.

You can see the program and information for the symposium, as well the slides from each presentation, and a video of the symposium.  Just go here.

King Carl of Sweden was in attendance for our panel's presentations, and he even spoke with us briefly before the symposium began.  You can see a video of that here.