For nearly two decades, I have served in agriculture policy capacities for the federal government – most of those years with the United States Department Agriculture. Today, I am reminded of a quote by Will Rogers. The outspoken Oklahoman once remarked, “An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh.” Instead, Rogers made so many Americans laugh during some of the most difficult times in the history of rural America, sometimes pointing out irony in the activities of government.
Today marks a truly historic action, as President Obama proposes dramatic, yet common sense reform to what has become over the years, a product of conventional politics and longstanding irony in the landscape of government. As part of the President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction announced today, President Obama is proposing to terminate direct farm subsidies. At nearly $5 billion in funding per year, the Direct Payments program is certainly no laughing matter. And if a vegetable were ever developed per the Rogers quote above, it wouldn’t qualify for direct payments, because vegetables are not deemed to be “program crops”. (more on that in a moment)
As the lead advisor on rural issues for the President’s Domestic Policy Council, some will ask me “why advocate for the reduction of an agriculture program?” In short, I believe the President’s proposal seeks to establish new policy that has been long overdue, and takes action that conventional thinking would regard as either too difficult, or too controversial.
As the proposal goes forward, it is important to consider the following characteristics of direct farm payments:
The points outlined above demonstrate the need for a new approach. The President’s plan will make a massive, but necessary change in the framework through which we work on agriculture and farm programs. As we have heard so often, most recently on the President’s Midwest Rural Tour, there are many young Americans who want to get into farming, or want to work and raise families in rural places. The President’s proposal will reshape the discussion on farm policy, and help focus attention and resources on how to support rural areas and better build capacity of those areas for future economic growth and development. That is the kind of approach to rural areas that will truly benefit everyone and provide contributions back to the economy and the nation.
Will Rogers also said, “Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.” It is time for all of us to work to get this done. President Obama has set the policy and dialogue on the right track for the future of agriculture and rural resources. Now it is time for us to move on this and build a better rural America for tomorrow.
“Someday” is now.
Doug McKalip is Senior Policy Advisor for Rural Affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Council.