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Rural America needs reform of farm program

By Chris Petersen
Guest columnist

Center for Rural Affairs logo copyThanks to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), both the Senate and House versions of the farm bill include a strict limit on farm program payments. Some Farm Bill Conference Committee members want to remove those farm limits, but that would be a mistake.

Here in rural America, we need more farms and more farmers, not the opposite. Without effective payment limits, however, the nation’s largest farms will continue to use virtually unlimited payments to bid up land costs and drive their smaller neighbors out of business — and prevent beginning farmers from ever getting a start.

Sen. Grassley and Rep. Fortenberry have championed commonsense reforms that would close loopholes that define who is “actively engaged” in farming to prevent non-farmers from gaming the farm program. Their reforms would also put reasonable caps on the total payments any one farm can receive. They won the votes in the House and Senate, democratically, not behind the closed doors of the Farm Bill Conference Committee. Their victory is a victory for all of rural America, and their amendments should remain in the final Farm Bill.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently voiced a soft position on this issue. But I disagree with him. There are small and mid-sized farms across the country that want and need reform. You can farm as many acres as you want, but at a certain point, you need to go talk to the bank and not rely on taxpayer subsidies.

Chris Petersen is a farmer in Clear Lake, Iowa, and past President of Iowa Farmers Union. Contact Petersen at The Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.

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