Dear congressional budget and appropriations committees — Please increase funding for farm programs in the 2018 farm bill.
That was the message the American Farm Bureau Federation and 11 other farm and ranch groups underlined in a letter Wednesday addressing the need for a strong farm safety net in the face of financial hardship not seen for decades.
“While we do not yet have a full-fledged financial crisis in rural America, a good many farmers and ranchers are not going to be able to cash-flow in 2017,” the groups wrote. “With USDA projecting continued low prices in 2018 and beyond, this situation threatens to quickly and vastly expand with each and every crop year.”
The advocates also applauded the House Agriculture Committee for drawing attention to the severe economic downturn facing rural America. Net farm income has dropped 50 percent in the last four years—the largest four-year percentage decrease since the Great Depression.
With no relief in sight, many farmers and ranchers are burning through capital reserves, and beginning farmers may be forced out of business altogether without reserves from good years to carry them through. Banks and other community lenders are finding their hands are tied as well. Without a strong safety net, farmers are unable to secure the loans they need to help with operating costs to keep their businesses running.
Farmers also face the challenges of a strong American dollar as other countries heavily subsidize and protect their producers.
“U.S. farmers have long said they were willing to compete with farmers elsewhere on a level playing field, but they cannot compete with the treasuries of foreign governments,” the groups wrote.
The 2018 Farm Bill presents a prime opportunity for Congress to respond to these sharp declines in farm prices and farm income. In previous years, agriculture was the only industry to take voluntary cutbacks to help reduce the federal deficit.
“Now we look to Congress to provide the resources necessary to help America’s farmers and ranchers through this very difficult period,” the groups wrote.