Ag Policy Blog

Benefits of Changing Permanent Farm Law?

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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I got a call Monday from an older Nebraska farmer asking me why there wasn't more reporting done on the repeal of the permanent farm law. The gentleman explained he had lived through some bad farm policies and he was worried about what it meant if there were no leverage to force lawmakers out of a bad policy decision down the road.

Specifically, the farmer cited "Freedom to Farm" in the 1990s and the 1950s sliding parity farm policy passed in the Eisenhower administration.

Freedom to Farm effectively got me involved in farm policy. I was general-assignment reporter for the Omaha World-Herald covering Iowa in the late 1990s. Prices crashed for both crops and livestock, due in part to the economic downturn in Asia, but there were other factors as well. Corn hit $1.50 a bushel and hogs went to 8-cents a pound. There was a guy in western Iowa who offered to allow people to come out and shoot a hog on his farm for $50.

I also recall in 2002 when Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee. Harkin was up for re-election in 2002 and the GOP had him in their sights. That race effectively ended when President George W. Bush signed the farm bill in May that year. Harkin came home to Iowa like a conquering hero.

I didn't know about the 1950s law, but the older Nebraska farmer explained it to me. A farmer effectively took the national market price for the crop and multiplied by 85% and that was the price guarantee. He said a price collapse then led to hard times and finally a shift in policy.

The farmer also wasn't happy with Nebraska's three congressmen for voting last week on a farm bill that repealed permanent law and replaced it with the commodity title that comes from these pending conference talks.

Keep in mind, farm policy might not have even gotten an extension of the 2008 farm bill had it not been for television news telling consumers that milk prices could have doubled last January. That was leverage to force Congress to do something.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau, raised the point that House voted to repeal the 1938 and 1949 laws without so much as a hearing or witness testifying to its effects. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., made the same point in noting that what the bill would do is perpetually extend out the commodity title without addressing the other portions of the farm bill, such as conservation, rural development, insurance, etc.

Picking this up via, the Financial Times quoted a House Agriculture Committee spokeswoman on the permanent law change: “A spokeswoman for the Republican majority on the agriculture committee defended the legislation, which she said instituted important changes to an arcane system. ‘This has nothing to do with sugar and everything to do with not going back to the stone age of agriculture. If a new farm bill isn’t reauthorized in the future, we revert back to the 2013 farm bill rather than the farm bills of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman,’ she said.

Perhaps to some of us the implications and benefits of coming out of the Stone Age are unclear. Since the House Agriculture Committee has no hearings scheduled on farm policy and perhaps no scheduled immediate conference talks, maybe it would be in everyone's best interest if the House Agriculture Committee enlightened the rest of us about this decision and invite some people to testify on the topic. I know at least one 80-year-old farmer who would like an explanation.

I can be found on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN


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William Harshaw
7/20/2013 | 11:56 AM CDT
Back in the Carter administration there was a push for "sunsetting laws", giving "permanent" legislation an expiration date just to Congress to reconsider the merits and demerits of the law. Never applied to ag legislation, because we already had it.
John Olson
7/20/2013 | 7:09 AM CDT
The recent passed house bill is an example of rinos working hard to turn the whole country into a Detroit. See
John Olson
7/17/2013 | 9:48 PM CDT
To think that congress is capable of coming up with better farm program schemes is preposterous. See
Bonnie Dukowitz
7/17/2013 | 9:17 PM CDT
All laws and rules should grandfather into the Library of Congress at some point. If not renewed or superseded in script -- disappear.