U.S. agribusiness is a complex environment that draws many interests, professions and policy considerations together to produce food for Americans and the larger world market, and as a consequence there is always industry news.
Below we take a look at the Top 5 agriculture stories of 2011, as a way to gauge the progress of the past year and perhaps better predict what the future holds for American the agricultural community.
1. Farm Bill Failure
The failure of the Congressional “supercommittee” to come to a consensus on how to reduce the budget meant that several pieces of proposed legislation failed to pass, including the 2011 farm bill.
It was really no surprise and the failure did not directly harm U.S. agriculture, but it means that negotiations will have to begin anew for a possible 2012 farm bill. The real concern is that a budget deal will not come, triggering across-the-board cuts that will impact agribusiness without the input of industry advocates.
The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) began 2011 by filing suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), accusing the federal regulatory body of putting a stranglehold on U.S. agribusiness through overregulation.
The regulation in question involved modest reductions in nitrogen, phosphorus and the byproduct of sediment runoff into Chesapeake Bay, and the 6 million-member organization put its collective foot down. AFBF members appealed to Congress to reign in the EPA, although the litigation remains unresolved.
3. Ethanol Subsidy Controversy
At one point in 2011 it appeared Congress had come to a consensus about ending the years-long subsidies (and import tariffs on foreign corn/ethanol) enjoyed by corn growers for ethanol production as part of the Economic Development Revitalization Act.
Of course, the legislation died and $6 billion in subsidies continued to flow into the ethanol-producing industry in 2011. Critics argue the industry is stable enough to stand on its own and that the subsidies are only helping to drive up the prices of food since so many food products are corn-based or corn fed.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issues a pesticide report every year detailing the use of pesticides in U.S. agriculture for the EPA, but in 2011 produce lobbyists took issue with the report and the way it was being used by activists to criticize and stigmatize certain food items as being exposed to more pesticides.
Activists maintained that the growing market in organic foods is proof of people’s concerns about pesticides and their interest in avoiding foods sprayed with them, but the industry countered by arguing that the produce grown is safe and that consumers are being misled by information from the USDA.
It was reported in May 2011 that recipients of food stamps through the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) had reached a record number of 40.8 million, causing partisan clashing about the nature of the “welfare state” and the abuses of SNAP.
A seeming disconnect in the argument, however, came in the fact that U.S. food producers indirectly rely on SNAP to move agricultural products. Even so, more cuts to the program are expected and will likely pit many policymakers who challenge the largesse of welfare against their own constituents – farmers who grow the food purchased with SNAP funds.
This article was written by James Madeiros who writes for Seametrics, a manufacturer of water flow meters often used in irrigation systems.