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Farm Bureau: Federal policy needs changing
By DOUG SCHMITZ
Iowa Correspondent

WASHINGTON, D.C. — To get a glimpse of where U.S. agriculture might be headed 13 years from now, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) recently released the results of a two-year study, which included a significantly changed federal farm program and an environmental plan controlled by the marketplace instead of political activists.

“It is obvious from the report that America’s farm and ranch families are facing big challenges, but also big opportunities,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman, who presented the findings at the AFBF board of directors meeting last month.

“This report signals that we must continue to pursue sound public policies that help preserve the family-oriented structure of American agriculture and encourage the economic health of our rural communities.”

The results came out of the AFBF’s Making American Agriculture Productive and Profitable (MAAPP) committee report: a two-year, futuristic study of what U.S. agriculture might resemble by the year 2019, which will mark the AFBF’s 100th anniversary.

The 23-member committee was made up of Farm Bureau farmers and ranchers from across the country, including Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) Vice President Craig Hill of Milo, Iowa, who joined Eden, N.Y. vegetable farmer Paul Zittel in spending two years studying the structure and population by the year 2019.

“We were amazed by our findings,” said Hill, who raises corn, soybean and pork, and served the past two years on the AFBF’s MAAPP Study Team.

“Eighty-nine percent of farm family income (was) derived by off-farm sources,” he said of the MAAPP report. “Seventy-five percent of ag receipts were derived by 143,000 operations. The middle-sized producer (our members) that produce between 25-75 percent fell from 270,000 in 1987 to 140,000 operations in 2002 and it is 2006.”

Chaired by Sturgis, Ky. farmer Bill Sprague, the MAAPP committee was asked “to develop a vision of where American agriculture should be in 2019 and then develop policy recommendations to help farmers make the transition from the current situation to that of the future.”

The committee identified various trends and circumstances affecting the future of farmers and ranchers, which included government support for agriculture that would look very different in 2019; the farm bills of recent years would be nothing like the farm bills of the future and fewer farms producing a larger percentage of total U.S. food and fiber, but there also would be more smaller farms.

Released on Jan. 2, the MAAPP report also said U.S. farmers would be more dependent on rural communities than rural communities would be dependent on agriculture; and global trade would be driving agricultural profitability because more than 96 percent of the world’s population would be living outside the United States.

Moreover, more farmers and ranchers would have learned to produce what they can sell and not simply sell what they produce; market forces would be driving the implementation of more environmental practices; and agricultural research and technology would be global in scope rather than nationally focused.

“Throughout this report, the MAAPP committee suggests ways that Farm Bureau, as an organization, can help facilitate innovative changes that will help our members adapt and thrive in this new environment,” Stallman said.

But one of the most striking areas in the report dealt with the future structure of American agriculture: in 2002, 143,000 farming operations would produce 75 percent of the value of all agricultural output, which would eventually take about 1.9 million operations to produce the remaining 25 percent.

The MAAPP report said by 2019, however, there would be more large farms and more small farms, but the number of mid-sized farms would dramatically decrease. The report also explored the relationship between farmers and their rural communities.

“Even today, farmers actually depend more on rural communities than they recognize due to off-farm employment for spouses or part-time employment for themselves,” the report said.

“Farmers and ranchers depend heavily on rural infrastructure, support services and businesses, such as roads, libraries, schools, banks and health-care facilities.”

Finally, by the year 2019, innovative marketing advances would allow farmers and ranchers to identify the types of products consumers would want.

“Farmers would have developed new strategies for delivering new products and services,” the report concluded. “And more producers will be taking advantage of “vertical integration, direct marketing and long-term contract” business strategies.”

The most important and driving conclusion reached by the committee was government support for agriculture would look very different in 2019 because of domestic budget pressures and international trade agreements, Stallman added.

Published in the January 18, 2006 issue of Farm World.

1/18/2006