Ag Committee Focuses on Farming's Fragile Economy

Feb 14, 2001

Ag Committee Focuses on Farming's Fragile Economy
Panel of economists predicts 4th consecutive year of record low commodity prices

(February 14, 2001)

House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Larry Combest (R-Texas) today opened a series of hearings to the recommendations of farm economists, agricultural experts, and producer organizations addressing the needs of the fragile farm economy. Wednesday, farm economists outlined the financial conditions in agriculture and the implications of certain federal farm policies. Thursday, producers' commodity and farm groups will begin a series of hearings with their specific policy recommendations in light of the economists' views.

"Not long ago, nearly all the top farm economists were predicting that the stage was set for another 'golden age of agriculture.' This was the atmosphere in which the 1996 Farm Bill was written," said Combest. "Unfortunately, within two years of the Farm Bill's passage, we saw our fortunes change. Today, we hear from top farm economists who, I understand, are going to predict the 4th consecutive year of record low commodity prices."

USDA Chief Economist Keith Collins projected that under current legislation and programs (without supplemental payments), net cash farm income in 2001 is projected to be at the lowest level since 1994 and about $4 billion below the average of the 1990s. Analysis of Dr. Daryll E. Ray, University of Tennessee's professor Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology suggests long-term or chronic issues that have shaped agriculture's response to the current farm bill and to previous farm bills. Meanwhile, examination by Professor Bruce Gardner of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Maryland leads to a two-pronged strategy: one to assist financially-troubled farmers, the second to maintain the U.S. position as world leader in agriculture and food with an industry of independent commercial farms able to grow freely and flourish economically.

In early 1999, the Agriculture Committee took the first of many steps to address the production side of the farm safety net with enactment of the most sweeping improvements to the Federal Crop Insurance Program in its 63-year history. More recently, while expanding crop insurance to cover lost crop revenues, Committee Members addressed regional concerns on the price side of the farm safety net with 200 producers in 10 rural communities nationwide. Now, the focus continues with the specifics of commodity programs as seen through farmer groups, during one-on-one in public questioning from Members of the House Agriculture Committee.

"These hearings are important for two reasons," said Combest. "First, I believe that people who do not contribute to a process have no room to complain about the outcome. Second, I believe the best ideas are tested ideas. By fully vetting every idea with producers, I believe not only can we build consensus -- but I believe the consensus we build will be the right one."

The series begins on Thursday when the National Cotton Council proposes specific analysis of cotton commodity programs, budget costs, commodity loan rate specifics, as well as how their proposals might impact other aspects of agriculture, our current export programs and trade agreements. Accompanying National Cotton Council Chairman Robert McLendon of Leary, Georgia will be Senior Vice President Gaylon Booker and Economic Service Vice President Mark Lange. The 9:30 a.m. Eastern hearing will be carried as it begins on the web site of the House Agriculture Committee.