With high prices for key agricultural commodities and rapid global increases in food demand, does the U.S. need farm programs developed years ago in an era of low prices? “The answer is probably no,” said Dan Glickman, former USDA Secretary of Agriculture. Agriculture built a commodity surplus that lasted until a few years ago, but that’s no longer the case, he said at the recent Informa Economics Food and Agriculture Policy Conference in Washington, D.C.
Furthermore, with a national debt of $1.6 trillion, he said, lawmakers have to examine all programs, including agricultural ones. With key commodity prices strong, the next farm bill will be written under different circumstances than many past farm bills, he added.
One key element needed in the next farm bill is a set of programs that will help farmers manage risk. “We’ve tried for a long time and have been rather unsuccessful,” Glickman said.
He pointed out that new players have entered the farm policy debate. “A lot of people have become involved on food and agricultural issues.” For agriculture, this is both an opportunity, as food and agriculture have taken on an importance much like health, national security and energy; but it’s also a challenge. “When I was in Congress, agriculture was left to the food and agriculture people,” said Glickman, a former congressman from Kansas.
“I’m not sure our research establishment is keeping up,” he said. “A lot of land-grants are trying to preserve the status quo.” He said it’s in the interest of the U.S. to get other countries to develop their agricultural industries.
The No. 1 issue facing agriculture today? In Glickman’s view, it’s the absence of water.