WACO, TEXAS (November 16, 2000) - Texas Farmers Union (TFU) President Wes Sims addressed the Texas Agriculture commission to propose policy changes that would provide economic stability, security and opportunity for family farmers and ranchers. He told members that independent producers have not realized the promised benefits of Freedom to Farm, the 1996 farm bill.
"Freedom to Farm has reduced the viability of family farmers," said Sims. "Declining commodity prices and producer incomes under this program have resulted in three years of supplemental assistance at a cost of $21.7 billion--and this figure keeps rising. With the start of a new legislative session next year, we must begin to change agriculture policy so it addresses the needs of family farmers and ranchers."
Sims outlined three major policy areas that are crucial to a successful, sustainable agriculture industry: 1) The issue of market concentration and integration in agricultue must be addressed to ensure that a transparent and competitive marketplace is available to all producers. 2) Agricultural trade policy must accommodate a broad range of priorities including socio-economic issues as well as market access, fair competition, and the impact of currency valuations. 3) U.S. agricultural programs for crops, dairy and livestock must be revised to provide an effective safety net during periods when market returns are inadequate.
"The goal of our agriculture policies should be to provide an adequate supply of safe, affordable and high quality food and fiber products," said Sims. "This can only happen when we focus on those elements of agricultural policy that provide the necessary economic stability, security and opportunity for farmers and ranchers and the rural communities in which they live."
Sims told the committee that even though the Freedom to Farm bill promised to usher in an era of farmer prosperity free of government support, the result was a significant reduction in economic security for producers. Of the $21.7 billion in additional funds that have been provided for the 1998-2000 production years, 84 percent have been directed to offset producer income losses due to reduced prices, well beyond what was originally prescribed in the 1996 bill. Reductions in regulations failed to bring about reduced costs for producers. Also, reduced price competition for export markets never materialized.
"While the 1996 farm bill fulfilled in part the desire of some to unilaterally reduce or curtail the public role in U.S. production agriculture, the legislation provided little flexibility to adequately and equitably address the economic crises in agriculture when the favorable conditions of 1996 changed," added Sims.
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