Bob Stallman says U.S. farmers have a choice: They can pay attention to writing the next farm bill now or they can pay in blood sweat and tears for trying to fend off farm legislation they don't want later.
Stallman, a farmer from Texas who serves as president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, says that if his fellow growers don't become deeply involved in the next farm bill debate someone else is likely to do it for them.
“For decades, agriculture has relied on our farm program as a sturdy bridge that gets us to the other side of the river and moves us on down our country road,” Stallman said. “Today that bridge is beginning to sag under the weight of change. We cannot afford to wait until that old bridge collapses, and we end up swimming for our lives.
“We not only have an opportunity but an obligation to start building a new bridge soon. Our choice to do so will have consequences, not only for us, but also for future generations of farmers and ranchers.”
Speaking at the AFBF's annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., Stallman said the longer farmers wait, “the more others outside of agriculture will see the decay of our bridge, and the more tempted they will be to build a bridge that serves only their needs at the expense of ours.”
He said the structure of agriculture is moving away from those growers like him who are in the middle, and that government support of agriculture is likely to be vastly different from today's farm programs.
Although farmers have harvested record crops in recent years, the current outlook is marked by uncertainty, he told the 6,500 delegates to the AFBF 87th annual meeting at the Opryland Hotel.
“Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma not withstanding, U.S. agriculture has had a fairly good run over the last few years,” Stallman said. “But we come into 2006 with a great deal of uncertainty. Major challenges await us this spring in regard to energy-related expenses.”
Stallman recognized American farmers and ranchers, particularly those living in the Gulf Coast areas of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas for persevering when faced with enormous challenges in 2005.
He also pledged that the nation's largest farm organization would continue its advocacy on priority issues such as protecting private property rights and increasing domestic energy supplies.
“Private property is the fuel that drives our great economic engine,” he said. “This fundamental right must not be diminished by any law or court ruling. We must send a clear signal to our state and national lawmakers — stop taking our property!”
Regarding domestic energy supplies, Stallman said it is “unconscionable that within the borders of this country there are vast amounts of energy in the form of oil, natural gas and coal, and we can't touch them.”
Farm Bureau's position on trade “continues to be strong and clear,” he said, noting the U.S. “will do its share to reduce domestic support, but developed and developing countries must also do their part in reforming and expanding market access opportunities.”
He said reforming the guest worker program would be another Farm Bureau priority for 2006.
A new analysis by Farm Bureau economists shows the price tag for failing to make immigration reforms would hurt U.S. farmers, resulting in losses of between $5 billion and $9 billion annually if Congress fails to enact a workable guest worker program. And net farm income will decline between $1.5 billion and $5 billion annually, according to AFBF estimates.
“It is certain that this would lead to the outsourcing of some current U.S. food production to other nations,” Stallman said. “We must not allow politics to stand in the way of our ability to feed Americans with food grown on American soil.”