You can bet it won’t be sliced like the 2008 Farm Bill pastry if survey results from a recent study by economists from Oklahoma State University and the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank are any indication. The research paper will be presented at the Southern Agricultural Economics Association Annual Meeting next month.
The team asked about 1,200 consumers and taxpayers from across the country where the 2012 Farm Bill priorities should be regarding farm support programs, research and education, food assistance programs, natural resources and environment, food safety and inspection, and rural development.
In case you didn’t know, current farm support programs only make up about 20 percent of the USDA budget. That includes all payments and crop insurance. Food assistance programs account for around 60 percent of the department’s budget. All other USDA programs and activities make up the remainder of the budget.
Admittedly, most taxpayers don’t know much about ag policy, but they do foot the bill for it, and seldom does anyone ask them how they would divvy up ag’s budget. Their answers offer an important glimpse into public opinion, and may be an indicator of what to expect as the next Farm Bill takes shape.
On an up note, the American public is generally sympathetic to agriculture (about 80 percent of respondents favored government subsidies for farmers). But don’t depend on those warm fuzzy feelings to get your back when it comes to direct farm payments. (Whatever you do, don’t rely on professional economists — about 80 percent of them want to eliminate ag subsidies altogether.)
Instead, more than half of survey respondents (50.7 percent) felt the majority of the ag budget should be devoted to food safety and inspection. It should be noted that right now, food safety and inspection gets $3.14 out of every $100 spent by USDA.
Food assistance received second place results, with 20.2 percent of the public thinking it to be the most important. Currently, food assistance programs receive $60.40 out of each $100 spent by USDA.
Farm support programs, which receive $22.03 of each $100 spent by USDA, were in third place of public importance, but the public only wanted $15.82 spent on farm programs if they were uncertain what they were, and $17.94 if it was explained what farm programs did.
Instead, the survey showed that “even if taxpayers are willing to direct their tax dollars to benefit farmers, they might be willing to redistribute money away from farm programs and toward ag research”
But perhaps most telling, study authors note that “looking at an overall distribution of funds, we can see people prefer a more equitable allocation of dollars. On average, respondents would like to see more dollars going to food safety and inspection, natural resources and environment, research and education, and rural development and less dollars going to food assistance and farm support” relative to the 2008 USDA budget.
I strongly encourage you to read the full report. It offers an excellent “heads-up” on what to expect from upcoming Farm Bill debates, as well as some perspective on what to expect as ag policy evolves. Plus, you can glean a little more about what your non-farming neighbors think, and that’s always a good thing; even when it makes you uncomfortable.