Regular Order is a Mistake for the Farm Bill

October, 2017

Washington and Lincoln -- Ordinarily I agree with agriculture expert and commentator Alan Guebert and would be commending his views to any readership. But his recent column "Regular Order" is shortsighted and downright wrong.

He praises the House and Senate agriculture committees for their hearings and deliberations over the 2018 Farm Bill, apparently for the purpose of contrasting how these committees go about their agriculture work, against the legislative chaos surrounding health care and taxes.

The 2018 Farm Bill, however, is headed toward ever more disintegration and destruction of rural America. If you like $2.95/bu corn (current price around Lincoln, Nebraska), by all means praise the committees for following Regular Order. If you accept "food deserts" across the country, as described so well by Barbara Soderlin of the Omaha World-Herald, then you will like more of the same being offered up by the House and Senate agriculture committees. If you like the fate of the American heartland being in the hands of foreign countries' commodity demands, then you will agree that the 2018 Farm Bill should follow the path of its 2014 predecessor, with just a bit of tinkering here and there. If you make no connection between the Farm Bill and the nation's diabetes epidemic, praise the Regular Order.

There is another way. The Farm Bill should be as contested as any legislation now before Congress. Production agriculture (Ag 1.0) should evolve into nutrition agriculture (Ag 2.0) through new provisions in the next Farm Bill. (See my earlier post about the distinction.) A realistic market basis for this evolution has now been outlined in a new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and the USDA. Entitled "Harvesting Opportunity," it should be a constant reference work for drafters of the Farm Bill.

Elected officials who care about rural America, and all who care about a healthy citizenry, need to be as fierce on the Farm Bill as they are on health insurance or taxes, if not more so. This means using all the legislative tools at hand – including throwing a wrench or two – even if they push beyond the niceties of the Regular Order.