Ag leaders outline farm bill priorities

By Pete Kappelman, Chairman of the Board, Land O’Lakes, Inc., and
Chris Policinski, Land O’Lakes President and Chief Executive Officer

As Congress considers action on a new Farm Bill, there’s a lot at stake – a vibrant and viable environment for U.S. agriculture, and a more secure future for America’s farm families.


But, ultimately, the Farm Bill is about a lot more than farming.


·         It’s about our nation’s economic vitality. Although less than 2 percent of the U.S. population is directly involved in on-farm production, one of every 12 U.S. jobs is in some way tied to agriculture. And because of the efficiency and productivity of U.S. agriculture, Americans enjoy the world’s most affordable food supply – spending only 7 cents on food for every dollar earned, freeing us to invest in other parts of the economy. This compares to Europe, South America and other regions, where spending on food can be as much as double or triple what Americans spend.


·         It’s about nutrition, family well-being and childhood development – all areas that  benefit from the Farm Bill’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which reaches more than 44 million needy Americans. In fact, funding for these vital nutritional programs is projected to make up more than 75 percent of total Farm Bill spending.


·         It’s about our nation’s balance of trade, with agricultural production and products generating a trade surplus of more than $40 billion in 2011, according to the USDA.


·         And, it’s about global economic and political stability, both of which are tied to food security. Hungry people do desperate things, and ensuring that people are fed is the most effective step we can take to promote global stability. That’s becoming an even more urgent imperative, as the global population grows. Looking ahead, food production will have to increase 70 percent by 2050 to meet the world’s growing needs – and U.S. agriculture will have to lead the way if we are to meet this ambitious goal.    


Clearly, when it comes to passing an effective Farm Bill, the stakes are high. And the challenges are as high as the stakes.


Today, producers operate in an era of limited resources, a faltering global economy and a volatile marketplace. This makes it all the more important that we establish national agricultural policies that achieve three key objectives:

·         Assure U.S. agriculture can provide a reliable supply of reasonably priced food domestically;

·         Enable U.S. agriculture to fulfill its role as a leader in meeting growing global food needs; and

·         Support family-based agriculture as the predominant structure in U.S. food production.

With these objectives in mind, Land O’Lakes supports the development and passage of a new Farm Bill to replace the Food, Conservation and Security Act, which expires this year. A key priority should be a reliable farm income safety net that includes enhanced risk management offerings, market transparency and strengthened insurance programs – all provided within tighter federal budget constraints. 

One crucial element within 2012’s agricultural legislation is the Dairy Security Act, introduced late in 2011 in the House of Representatives by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID).

We strongly support this legislation, which includes the basic principles of Foundation for the Future, developed and supported by dairy producers and their cooperatives through the National Milk Producers Federation. The essence of the legislation is to re-orient government dairy programs – moving from an emphasis on price to a focus on maintaining adequate margins.   

The Dairy Security Act represents a carefully crafted response to the crushing cost-price squeeze caused by record-high feed costs and weakened international demand that forced many dairy farmers out of business two years ago and left thousands more with staggering losses. The legislation also recognizes that tight margins continue to create financial stress for dairy producers, even with relatively stronger milk prices at the farm gate. 

The Dairy Security Act would establish what amounts to an insurance program to protect farm income when margins fall to dangerous levels. These programs would be voluntary, so those who do not want to participate can opt out, giving dairy producers the choice between a completely free-market approach or one in which the government provides a basic safety net. At the same time, the measure is expected to save tax dollars -- more than $160 million over five years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. 

With so many benefits, we believe the Dairy Security Act can serve as a model for policy reform across agriculture. 

As we look to the future – and the role agriculture will play – we can be proud that U.S. farmers lead the world in productivity. Feeding people is a noble pursuit. But to continue this tremendous productivity story, we also need to reform farm policy and ensure that a productive and prosperous U.S. agriculture industry continues.

With this in mind, we ask Congress to pass a Farm Bill this year. The need is clear … and the time to act is now.   

Pete Kappelman is a Wisconsin dairy producer and Chairman of the Board of Land O’Lakes, Inc. ( Chris Policinski is President and CEO. Land O’Lakes has been a farmer-owned cooperative for more than 90 years. Land O’Lakes is the nation’s second largest co-op and a leading marketer of dairy-based consumer, foodservice and food-ingredient products across the U.S., as well as providing an extensive line of agricultural supplies (animal feed, seed, and crop protection products) and services.