July 19, 2016
Editor’s note: Our analysis of the Democratic National Platform can be found here.
With the din of the national election cycle swelling to deafening levels, we might expect federal agricultural policy to get lost in all the noise. In fact, however, positions on agricultural issues have already been outlined both by the candidates and their respective political parties. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released a fact sheet on rural and agricultural issues as far back as August of 2015, and the draft Democratic National Platform includes short blurbs on agricultural commodities, local and regional food systems, and food insecurity. This week, on the first day of their national convention, the Republican Party released their 2016 platform.
Positions on agricultural issues in the platform ranged from the very general to the very specific, but overall its approach imagined farmers, the public, and the government each existing in vacuums – or to use a farm term, in silos.
To create a sustainable future for American agriculture we will need farmers, the public, and the government working together –not against or apart from one another – for the common causes of a strong farm economy, healthy lands and ecosystems, and a safe and ample food supply.
Below is a brief summary of the Republican platform’s positions on a few key agricultural policy issues:
The Farm Bill and Food Security
Among the most concerning proposals in the 2016 Republican platform is its proposal that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a food assistance program that will keep 1 in 7 Americans (over 45 million) from going hungry this year, should be removed from the farm bill and from the administration of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Though perhaps not the intent of this proposal, the result of such a decision would not be the undoing of the SNAP program, but rather the end of the farm bill as we know it. Pulling nutrition out of the farm bill seriously harm the farm safety net and a host of other rural and agricultural programs; it would also send the unfortunate message that food and farm policy should be not be linked and that the policy connections between urban and rural Americans should be torn apart.
The platform statement also says,
“[T]he last Farm Bill took far too long to enact, creating instability about farm policy for nearly two years. Republicans are dedicated to leading this country forward, which includes getting things done on time, including the next Farm Bill.”
This is an intriguing comment in light of the platform’s aforementioned recommendation to remove SNAP from the farm bill. Efforts to do just that in the House of Representatives in 2012 and 2013 were, in fact, the primary reason the last farm bill was not completed in time. One sure way to ensure the next farm bill takes too long to complete is to try the same failed strategy a second time.
We applaud the drafters of the Republican platform for their acknowledgement of the need for a fair and balanced crop insurance subsidy system:
“No segment of agriculture can expect treatment so favorable that it seriously disadvantages workers in other trades. Federal programs to assist farmers in managing risk must be as cost-effective as they are functional, offering tools that can improve producers’ ability to operate when times are tough while remaining affordable to the taxpayers.”
Crop insurance is a vital risk management tool for farmers, and finding the balance between an effective tool and one that is cost effective and in keeping with wide public support for conservation, sustainability, equal access, and a family farm system of agriculture is not an easy task, but one that must be undertaken with greater rigor than it has to date. We can and must do better for our farmers, and a nod in that direction from the GOP platform should be welcomed and not feared by the agricultural sector.
Conservation and Environment
The platform refers to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule as a “travesty” that, “extends the government’s jurisdiction over navigable waters into the micro-management of puddles and ditches on farms, ranches, and other privately-held property.” In fact, however, WOTUS would reduce the EPA’s regulatory scope by specifying which waters the agency does and does not have jurisdiction over – providing much needed clarity to farmers and other landowners. The platform’s erroneous statements on the effects and scope of WOTUS are more than disingenuous, they are harmful to farmers and to political civility.
The platform does not stop at defeating wetland protection, however. It also outlines plans to significantly weaken the Endangered Species Act, turn public lands over to the states for development, and eliminate the EPA by replacing it with a bipartisan commission. Clearly, the 2016 platform has traveled a long ways from one that Teddy Roosevelt, or even Richard Nixon, would recognize as one expressing core Republican values with respect to environmental protections.
We do, however, agree with the platform’s statement that,
“[farmers and ranchers] are among this country’s leading conservationists. Modern farm practices and technologies, supported by programs from the Department of Agriculture, have led to reduced erosion, improved water and air quality, increased wildlife habitat, all the while maintaining improved agricultural yields. This stewardship of the land benefits everyone…”
Unfortunately, between cuts to conservation in the 2014 Farm Bill (the first in farm bill history), additional cuts to conservation through the budget reconciliation process, and still more cuts via the annual appropriations bill, billions of dollars have been ripped out of agricultural conservation programs in the last few years. For a platform as anti-regulatory as this one, we might have hoped for some sign of support for voluntary conservation measures and conservation incentive programs – not more cuts.
The platform waxes eloquently about the First Amendment rights of all Americans, but for some reason, this passion for the First Amendment is not extended to America’s contract farmers – farmers who raise poultry and hogs for large meat and poultry corporations. An estimated 96 percent of all chickens and 43 percent of all hogs in the U.S. are grown in the contract agriculture system, according to USDA. The platform states,
“Congress has repeatedly had to block the current Administration’s draconian rules concerning the marketing of poultry and livestock. This regulatory impulse must be curbed, not on a case-by-case basis, but through a fundamental restructuring of the regulatory process. In the meantime, the intrusive and expensive federal mandates…should be ended as soon as possible by a Republican Congress.”
Without expressly saying so, the platform is rejecting the USDA’s attempt to finalize the rules for the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921, which would enshrine basic rights for farmers into law, including: the right to free speech and association and the protection against retaliation for exercising those rights; the right for farmers to understand how their pay is calculated, thus ensuring payments are fair; and the right to a jury trial in potential disputes with an employer. How can it possibly be in the interest of constitutionalists to reject the basic rights of our nation’s family farmers in the name of stopping the “regulatory impulse”?
Despite bipartisan votes in both the House and Senate to approve mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods, the platform nonetheless stands in opposition to the GMO labeling bill recently passed by Congress. It is difficult to know whether to laugh or cry, but perhaps the most positive spin on this platform plank is the heartening news that sometimes Congress can focus its attention on practical politics and the art of the deal, rather than drawing lines in the sand that foster division instead of unity in pursuit of the public good.
Categories: General Interest