Opinion: Farm policy made worse

After Congress failed to pass a new comprehensive farm bill at the end of 2012 and instead opted to extend parts of the bill that expired last October, many in farm country were left scratching their heads. What happened? How could legislators forget about a bill so important to farmers and ranchers? And where do we go from here?

Some said the farm bill extension was evidence that farm country had lost much of its political clout. Farmers and ranchers agitated for a new comprehensive bill that would lock in relative certainty in agricultural policy for the next five years, yet they were marooned on Capitol Hill.

In an editorial last week the Minneapolis Star Tribune, however, argued that Congress still listens to agriculture interests, just perhaps not small family farmers.

A truer and more alarming way to view the one-year extension of a scaled-down version of the 2008 farm bill included in the deal is that Congress catered to the interests of rich and powerful corporate operations. They'll receive subsidies they don't need and increased exemption from estate taxes, which tightens their grip on land ownership. Congress also degraded the conservation, environmental, energy and organics programs assailed by Big Ag.

Calling the farm bill extension “a giant step in the wrong direction,” the Star Tribune gets to the heart of an important debate raging from field to table all over the country – what is the role of individual farmers in an industry seeing the rise of large corporations?

Many farmers and ranchers had been hoping that Congress would draw up a new farm bill before Jan. 1, giving them a measure of stability and clarity in a business that is rarely either.

Instead, with nine months until another deadline, more questions remain.