What's Next for Farm Policy?

What's Next for Farm Policy?

Former Ag Secretary Dan Glickman discusses how farm policy needs to change.

After decades of low prices and farm programs based on low prices, former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman predicted those days are over.

"That doesn't mean we'll have heaven on earth," he said, but it will offer stability to farmers as well as rural communities and businesses.

But that too will require new focus on other areas to offer the greatest bang for agriculture's buck, Glickman shared with rural development leaders as he keynoted the Senate Democrat Rural Summit April 25.

Former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman keynoted the Senate Democrats Rural Summit held April 25 in Washington, D.C. He told attendees that rural America is in a much stronger position to recover than many parts of the country. However, in tough fiscal times, difficult decisions need to be made in evaluating the future of farm policy.

This will require attention beyond just the Title 1 commodity programs, but most notably on research, conservation and rural development where today too little is being spent in those areas. "It's really important to recognize investment capital determines how competitive we will be in rural America," Glickman said.

He shared that agriculture research funding continues to drop in the United States, something not seen in China and India. Problems impacting farmers such as water resources, soil systems, pests and disease and climates need to be prioritized, he said.

Not only will more money be needed, but an overhaul of the research system focusing more on competitive research. Currently only 10% of agricultural research is done this way which  compared to the National Institute of Health and National Science Foundation that does close to 90% of its research through competitive research grants.

During an agricultural appropriations hearing April 16, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack also discussed the importance of increasing investment in agriculture research.

"Agriculture research has been flat-lined for far too long when other areas have been more aggressive. We need to play catch up there," Vilsack told congressional members during the hearing.

Glickman, who was ag secretary during the time when large amounts of land were taken out of production, recognizes that today's pressure to produce more on less land will require incentivizing production practices that also help conserve and protect natural resources on the farm.

Last year both the Senate and House farm bills called for an undersecretary for trade at the U.S. Department of Agriculture which Glickman said will be "critically important" for producers at the farm level and rural development as today many trade disputes result from non-tariff barriers. Glickman supports creating a position exclusively focused on agriculture trade because trade "will decide how significant of a future rural America is going to be," he said.

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