On Wednesday, April 16, we will continue our conversation about the farm bill and the future of farming with Ariane Lotti, assistant policy director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Lotti will speak with us about how the 2014 farm bill shapes emerging alternative food systems and will give us insight into spaces for subsidy reform in the coming years.
A farm subsidy is essentially a financial “safety net,” which is designed to help agricultural producers weather unstable markets from year to year. This security is intended to even out the fluctuations in market prices, demand, and weather and protect the agricultural community from collapse as a result of one or two bad years. These subsidies, however, are not disseminated broadly within the entire agricultural system of the United States. Rather, they are heavily weighted towards the five commodity crops: corn, soybean, cotton, and rice. Dairy and sugar producers are also bolstered by a separate market and cost control system.
These subsidies are government intervention in the food systems that began in the United States during the New Deal and Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 (though the United Kingdom has much earlier versions of such government action). Although these subsidies grew out of economic necessity, they have come under increasing attack in recent years. While proponents point to the need for subsidies in order to make domestic products competitive in the international market, others argue that they distort markets. This distortion, detractors hold, is not only detrimental to poor farmers in developing countries but also places excessive burden on domestic taxpayers, while incentivizing environmentally harmful agricultural practices, thereby leaving more environmentally friendly techniques underfunded.
Commodity programs dispense billions of dollars every year to farmers and in order to access these funds, farmers may put marginal land into production, a decision that can lead to overproduction, and a prompt price collapse as in the rice industry of the 1980s. Opponents of historic farm subsidies quickly point to the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides that farmers use to make marginal cropland more productive, a behavior incentivized by subsidies. The resulting nutrient loading and pollution, they argue, creates an unnecessary environmental problem.
While the 2014 Farm Bill may have upheld historic trends in maintaining an agribusiness protected by farm subsidies, it does invest more than $1.2 billion over the next five years for programs for beginning farmers, local food, and organic agriculture. The Farm Bill also “reconnects crop insurance subsidies to basic conservation requirements,” a good sign for those concerned about the impact of modern industrial agriculture on U.S. ecosystems. However, as Ariane Lotti will demonstrate, the Bill’s persistent subsidy structure leaves much to be desired if truly innovative farming practices are to take hold.
Arianne Lotti holds a Master of Environmental Management from Yale University and, in addition to her work at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, she has served as the policy director for the Organic Farming Research Foundation. Lotti is a published author and her research remains focused on organic and conventional farming in the US and in Europe. Lotti also serves on USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service Advisory Committee.
To register for Lotti’s talk, please see this link: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/576821455.
Our final speaker in our Frontiers in Food and Agriculture series is Sarah Carlson, research coordinator at the Practical Farmers of Iowa. Carlson will be concluding this series with her talk “Driving Sustainability: Empowering Growers with On-Farm Research.” For more information about her talk please visit our events page here:http://envirocenter.yale.edu/events. To register for this final webinar see this link: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/470665063.