It’s time to make farm supports a safety net (again)

WASHINGTON (April 20, 2017) – The Agriculture Act of 2014 is set to expire next year, which means congressional deliberations on the next farm bill are just around the corner. In a new study, R Street Policy Analyst Caroline Kitchens debunks myths promulgated by the farm lobby that a stronger “safety net” is needed for the agricultural industry.

“By protecting farms against all manner of dips in revenue and funneling taxpayer dollars to the wealthiest operations, today’s farm-support system goes well beyond the concept of a safety net,” Kitchens writes. “Fortunately, there are some modest reforms that could be made that would simultaneously rein in spending and direct taxpayer dollars toward farms that most need assistance.”

One policy option that would go a long way toward eliminating cronyism is to enact payment limits and means tests around the federal government’s subsidies for crop insurance. These policies would put reasonable restrictions around the program and ensure that the wealthiest and largest farms do not qualify. As Kitchens explains, it is in fact possible to limit crop insurance premium subsidies without harming those farms that struggle to stay afloat.

“None of these reform measures alone would fix our broken farm support system, but they would target some of the ‘lowest-hanging fruit’ and most egregious misuses of taxpayer funds,” noted Kitchens. “These legislative options all come with trade-offs, and all are likely to generate significant pushback from entrenched agriculture interests. Still, they are all feasible ideas that would reduce waste and cronyism in our farm-support system without endangering the safety net function it is supposed to play for farmers on the brink of poverty.”

 R Street is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization whose mission is to promote free markets and limited, effective government. It has headquarters in Washington, D.C. and five regional offices across the country. Its website is www.rstreet.org.

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