Ag Policy Blog

Sen. Grassley Explains Why Farmers Need a Safety Net

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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I was sort of dozing off this morning on a weekly press call, having not asked much of a question myself to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, when it was my chance. My coffee just wasn't doing its job. And I was also admiring on ESPN how my fantasy team is still the most dominant force in my league this year.

Then a Politico reporter starting asking the senator about trade-aid payments to farmers. In her follow-up question, she highlighted that there were a lot of negative comments on social media about farmers and the second round of trade-aid payments, including the implication that the aid payments were welfare for farmers. The reporter then asked Grassley if he was worried about agriculture's perception in relation to the trade-aid payments because there seems to be a lot backlash.

And then Grassley woke me up with his reply.

"It's complete ignorance of farmers, of agriculture generally, and what a safety net for farmers that we call the farm bill does," Grassley said. "And talking about welfare for farmers, 85% of the farm bill goes to city slickers for food stamps."

Just to clarify here, from 2012 to 2016, a higher percentage of rural households, 16%, was on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, than urban households, which was 13%, according to the Food Research & Action Center. The number of people in 2018 on SNAP averaged 40.3 million, according to USDA, or about 12.5% of the U.S. population. Grassley's description of this population as "city slickers" makes it seem everyone on SNAP is getting rich, but the average SNAP aid per month is $125.25. This population isn't living high on the hog. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/…

Grassley voted against the final 2018 farm bill last week because he was unhappy over the lack of reform to farm-program payments, but he took umbrage with social media critics of the farmer-safety net.

"It's complete ignorance on their part. Probably the same people who think food grows in supermarkets and not on farmers, and then what's the safety net for farmers all about? The farmers at the bottom of every cycle of food production. Just think of input to the famers. They have to pay for seed, fertilizer, and chemicals, whatever the people demand. If you want to grow crops, you have got to have that input.

"And then when it comes to selling, you have got to take whatever people are willing to give you. That's the market, we call it. Now maybe you don't have to sell today and you sell tomorrow, but for three years prices have been lower than the cost of production. Then those aren't even the main reasons for a safety net. There's so much beyond the farmer's control. Just think -- drought. What have the farmer have control of whether it rains or not? Or let's say President Carter puts on a grain embargo, and the price drops dramatically, because of a political decision by our president because Russia invades Afghanistan. Or Nixon putting price controls on food for three months, and it doesn't work so he takes it off. But it ruined the cattle industry in Iowa -- I mean in America, but Iowa was No. 1 at one time in the production of beef and now we aren't No. 1.

"And all of those things, they are all things the farmer doesn’t control, but it affects them directly. What about a lock and dam breaking down and shutting down the Mississippi and the price of grain goes down 25 cents in one day? A safety net for farmers is important because farmers have no control over this and it affects their livelihood.

"But it not only affects their livelihood, but it affects the production of the food being so important for national security. And then think about the old wives' tale that you all hear about that societies are only nine meals away from a revolution and you only have to go back to Thailand four or five years ago when the price of rice went so high that people couldn’t afford it and there wasn't rice to buy and they had riots. Now we don't have riots in the United States because people can't buy food because the American farmer's so efficient.

"So you understand that it's very difficult for the 2% of the people that are American farmers to tell the other 98% how important food production is so we don't have revolutions and so we can feed our military because as Napoleon said, 'An army marches on its belly.' So does that kind of answer your question?"

Next question anyone?

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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