What’s wrong with the current Farm Bill?


The goal of food and farm policy should be a sustainable and adequate supply of wholesome food at affordable prices.

NFFC’s food and farm policy proposal, called the Food from Family Farms Act (FFFA), is the foundation for a new sustainable family farm system.

What’s wrong with the current Farm Bill?

Before America’s agricultural policy was dismantled in the name of the “free market”, price floors ensured that farmers received a fair price for their crops. By setting the lowest price that could be paid for a commodity, price floors functioned somewhat like a minimum  wage. They ensured that a company like Cargill could not buy corn from Farmer Jill for much less than it had cost Farmer Jill to grow the corn.

When farmers produced too much corn, they could choose to put their excess corn in farmer-controlled reserves, where it could stay safe until they wanted to sell it. Similarly, the government could choose to buy the corn that farmers were selling, and put it in government-owned reserves.
Later, when not enough corn was on the market due to flooding or a bad harvest, and prices for corn were skyrocketing, farmers and the government could release some of their reserves into the market to alleviate the problem.

Agribusiness hated these supply-management policies when they were enacted in the New Deal and lobbied against them for decades. In the 1970s, they found allies in government officials who believed in a strict “free market” ideology. Over the next two decades, these policies were slowly weakened. Finally, the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act called for the elimination, over seven years, of all price floors and grain reserves, in order to “get government out of agriculture”, once and for all.

But, for the government at least, the plan backfired. Prices collapsed by 1998, and the government had to bail out farmers with millions in subsidies, a practice it continues today. For agribusiness, all that mattered was that they no longer had to pay farmers a fair price for their crops. The price of corn plummeted, and the government was forced to make up the difference. A policy change intended to “get government out of agriculture” instead drew government in further, so that, in 2000, 49% of a farmer’s income came from the government in the form of subsidies. Meanwhile, between 1997 and 2005, factory farms saved $35 billion buying Farmer Jill’s corn for much less than it cost to produce. Family farms are going out of business left and right, factory farms are flourishing, and farmers forced to rely on subsidies are flooding the market with corn, making the corn syrup sweetened products which fuel America’s obesity crisis cheaper than ever.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Subsidy Resources

Identifying the Real Winners from U.S. Agricultural Policies (GDAEI, 12/05)

What King Corn Didn’t Tell You

Farm bill debate distracts from corporate subsidies (10.30.07) – As the Senate Agriculture Committee considers a new farm bill, agricultural subsidies to farmers continue to dominate the debate. Unfortunately, this oversimplified discussion ignores the biggest recipients of hidden subsidies: Multi-national meatpacking companies like Tyson-IBP, ConAgra, Cargill and Smithfield.

Whose Subsidy Is It Anyway? (06.04.07). Progressive farm experts and advocates say that the government should return to supply management and at the same time bring anti-trust lawsuits against corporate agribusiness. They want to expand measures to protect the environment, encourage better nutrition and help farm workers. Unfortunately, on Capitol Hill, corporate agribusiness lobbyists and campaign donations rule.– David Moberg, In These Times.

Ethanol Booms, Farmers Bust (05.25.07). “If we as a nation care about family farmers as much as we claim to, we ought to take the NFFC’s advice: scrap the subsidy system, which only perpetuates the vicious cycle of farm-level booms and busts, and replace it with a predictable system that growers can rely on.” — Lisa M. Hamilton, AlterNet

Farm Bill Resources

July 25, 2012 — Read NFFC’s latest updates on the Senate and House Farm Bills

NFFC dairy farmers push for a fair pricing scheme in the 2012 Farm Bill. Read the Country Today article here

View the Rethinking US Agricultural Policy: Changing Course to Secure Farmer Livelihoods Worldwide slideshow for a brief overview of policy barriers farmers face, and smart solutions.

Farm Bill A Wasted Chance (05.27.08) – NFFC President Ben Burkett discusses the Farm Bill’s failure to meet the challenges of agriculture today. (Santa Rosa Press Gazette)

Farm Bill Showdown (08.09.07) – “Harkin should embrace the proposal of three dozen farm and rural groups led by the National Family Farm Coalition… to replace subsidies with a federally defined price floor that would in effect be a minimum wage for farmers and to reinstate strategic grain reserves to stabilize crop prices.” — John Nichols, The Nation
Set Price Floor for Crops; Boost Conservation Funds (06.11.07). “When it comes to the next farm bill, the solution is obvious: commodity reform.” — Gary Larson, Des Moines Register.

Iowan: Farm Program Works Against Growers, Environment (04.29.07) – An interview with George Naylor. “We need a sustainable agriculture system, not just a few sustainable farmers.” — Des Moines Registe

Bush Team Squeezes Farmers, Stifles Dissent (02.26.06): Jim Goodman, a Wisconsin dairy farmer, discusses new agricultural legislation in the Capital Times.

NFFC President’s Response to Administration’s 2007 Farm Bill Proposal

Farm Bill Showdown – (8/9/07) John Nichols challenges Nancy Pelosi’s claim that the 2007 Farm Bill takes America’s farm policy in a “new direction”.

The 2007 Farm Bill: What We Need and Why (4/07) – George Naylor

Food without Thought: How U.S. Farm Policy Contributes to Obesity

Reserves Resources

The Urgent Need for Strategic Reserves

NFFC Hosts Teleconference Outlining How Lack of Grain Reserves Has Fueled the Global Food Crisis (07.11.08)

Iowa Floods May Further Deepen Food Crisis (06.15.08) – Listen to this NPR Weekend Edition interview with former NFFC president George Naylor, whose farm is currently under water. George explains how the lack of grain reserves means food prices could increase with no relief in sight. (NPR Weekend Edition)

Food’s Uncertain Future (06.05.08) – NFFC Letter to the Editor points out cover story on global food crisis solutions neglected the urgent need for Strategic Grain Reserves. (U.S. News and World Reports)

Surplus U.S. Food Supplies Dry Up (05.02.08) – USAToday article focuses on the relationship between the USDA’s lack of food reserves and the food crisis, as well as the subsequent impact on nutrition and commodity programs. (USAToday)

Groups Advocate for Strategic Grain Reserve (04.28.08) Read a letter sent by NFFC and other groups to Congress urging them to establish strategic grain reserves.

Farm Bill Ignores Dire Need for Grain Reserve (10/07) – NFFC President George Naylor writes, “You wouldn’t even know there was an emerging global food crisis if you listened to the United States Congress. As the Senate finally considers the Farm Bill, virtually absent from the discussion is the need to have strategic food reserves, akin to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.”

NFFC Farm and Food Policy Task Force Priorities

  1. Continue to implement the long-term NFFC campaign to change current federal farm policy, working with NFFC member groups and partner organizations.
  2. Build support for our comprehensive policy proposal, the Food from Family Farms Act (FFFA) (NFFC-authored alternative Farm Bill), among farmers, politicians, consumers, environmentalists, and other constituencies.
  3. Continue to develop materials to illustrate how corporate agribusiness benefits from the current farm policy and how it harms family farmers, consumers, and the environment.
  4. Continue to develop presentations on alternative farm and trade policy and present them to a wide spectrum of audiences, broadening support for a new farm/food/trade policy agenda.
  5. Support efforts to eliminate the pork, beef, dairy and other check-off programs, and to combat factory livestock confinement operations.
  6. Link domestic policy with international focus on opposing multi-national agribusiness corporations.
  7. Amplify campaigns prioritized by member organizations.
  8. Collaborate with allied organizations to promote national/international policy priorities.