Barry Flinchbaugh talks about 2012 Farm Bill: hard rock or quick sand? During 2012 Agrivisions tour
Barry Flinchbaugh, economist at Kansas State University (KSU), didn’t mince words when he spoke to South Dakotans in a tour to Mitchell, Crooks and Yankton, SD, on Jan. 23-24.
The Agrivisions 2012 event was sponsored by First Dakota National Bank, and the forum focused on updating farmers and ranchers on the farm bill and the future of agriculture in the U.S.
“Agriculture is the bright spot in the economy, but the farm bill expires at the end of 2012,” Flinchbaugh said. “We have record federal deficits and record net farm income – a perfect storm in which to debate a new farm bill. The earliest we can expect a farm bill would be in the lame duck session of Congress after the election. We could repeat the experience with the 1995 farm bill that was not passed until April of 1996. That means passage in the spring of 2013.”
There are many in Washington, D.C. who believe the farm bill is unnecessary. This is fueled by 2011 record-high farm incomes of $115 billion.
“Some people say we can’t afford a farm bill,” said Flinchbaugh. “A whopping 89 cents of every dollar the U.S. government spends is on four things including: defense, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Agriculture shouldn’t have to take more than its fair share of cuts. In 2000, we spent $32.3 billion in agriculture, and in 2012, we only got $8.6 billion. That’s a four-fold cut! If other areas of government would take these cuts, our nation would be in a surplus.”
As the nation’s food producers await the passing of the farm bill, Flinchbaugh said there are other areas of concern to think about.
“There are two ways to govern and only two ways,” he said. “Through compromise in a democratic society or at the point of a gun in dictatorship. Both political parties refuse to compromise. Congress is dysfunctional, and we have a President who refuses to lead. The Democrats will not look at Social Security and Medicare. The Republicans refuse to remove the billions of dollars of earmarks that are in our outdated and bloated tax code. Nothing will happen until after the election.”
According to Flinchbaugh, beginning in 2013, $1.2 trillion of spending will be sequestered and the Bush tax cuts will expire.
“The number-one issue facing farmers today is the national deficit,” he added. “I have never seen the nation’s elected leaders more dysfunctional, more mean-spirited, and more partisan than it is right now. We have to start working together to get things done. I’m going to argue that our nation’s woes aren’t from economic uncertainty, but from political uncertainty. Our economy is recovering at a rate of 1.8 percent, but that isn’t fast enough.”
Economists Magazine estimates there are $4.5 trillion uninvested in the U.S. economy. Flinchbaugh said with Americans new focus on saving money instead of spending or investing is problematic.
Both parties tell you to invest, but why should you?” He asked. “You have no idea what your expenses will be, how high fuel will get and what the economy will do. If we all invested that $4.5 trillion, we could grow our economy by a rate of 5 percent.”
Agriculture has a big role to play in the economic recovery.
“We will have to feed 3.5 billion more people by 2050, and we will do this with biotechnology,” he said. “We will have to improve our efficiencies while also reducing our environmental footprint. If you’re anti-biotechnology, you are pro-starvation, in my book. Policies must be made on sound science. We need a reality check in this country, and our nation’s elected officials need to invest in agriculture.”
At the conclusion of his speech, he ended on a high note, “The future of the agriculture economy is very bright. Remember there’s more people to feed; 30 percent of people around the world go to bed hungry at night. That breeds terrorism. We have to feed these people. In my opinion, you’re in the right business. Just remember to be frugal and know the road will be bumpy. But, life would be boring if it was all smooth sailing, right?”