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Farm News & Views - May 9, 2023

Re-authorization of the 2023, or maybe 2024, Farm Bill continues to be a hot topic in farm publications. Since the largest part of the farm bill spending goes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance or SNAP Program, which amounts to $4 of every $5 in the act, some farmers wonder why it’s known as a farm bill. Spending for the legislation will grow from $867 billion in the current bill to $1.5 trillion for the proposed bill, with crop insurance, at $9.4 billion annually, the largest agricultural support, followed by $6.2 billion for commodity subsidies and $5.8 billion for land stewardship. The nutrition component of the bill will cost $1.2 trillion. There’s also push back by 11 environmental, consumer, small farm, and small government groups that oppose higher farm subsidies. These groups contend that support for covered commodities would only boost federal payments to the largest and most successful farmers, who already received almost 66% of all commodity subsidies in 2021 and about 60% of all crop insurance subsidies between 2012 and 2020. While talking about one and a half trillion dollars may be hard to comprehend, John Newton, chief economist of the Senate Ag committee, told journalists during a farm bill panel that only three-tenths of a percent of federal spending is spent on agriculture. Add in SNAP and it’s still only 2% of the federal budget. Yikes!

Last week, the USDA announced that it was providing an additional $130 million in assistance to financially distressed borrowers, boosting total farm loan relief for producers to approximately $1.1 billion since last fall. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that "Congress wanted aid delivered quickly, and that is what we are delivering to help producers across the country stay on their land.” More than 20,000 distressed borrowers are being aided, with some of them undergoing loan restructuring, while others were more than 60 days late in payments. Lawmakers had earmarked $3.1 billion in the 2022 climate, health and tax law for “farm loan immediate relief for borrowers with at-risk agricultural operations.” The USDA released $800 million last October to borrowers who were delinquent on direct and guaranteed loans. On March 27th USDA reported that $123 million in additional automatic assistance would be released to borrowers facing financial risk.

Recently, Colorado State University was selected, in partnership with Oregon State University, to run one of 12 regional food business centers as part of a new U.S. Department of Agriculture program, which will provide coordination, technical assistance and capacity building to help farmers, ranchers and other food businesses access new markets and navigate federal, state and local resources. The center will provide technical assistance to farmers, ranchers and other food businesses in a six-state region that includes Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Wyoming and Washington. The $30 million in funding for five years, will put about $1 million per year into each of the states it will serve, providing technical assistance and grants for anyone who wants to start a food business, move into a new farmers’ market, or is looking at a new product, according to Dawn Thilmany, associate director of CSU’s Regional Economic Development Institute.

American poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “No great man ever complains of want of opportunity.”

Bob has been an agricultural educator and farm and ranch management consultant for over 40 years in southwest Colorado. He writes about agricultural issues from his farm near Cortez, and has helped to produce farm reports on KSJD for more than a dozen years.