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Winter 2002

Freedom to farm
By Steve Leer

Image: Freedom to farm

Will the 2002 farm bill signal a new direction for ag policy?

No one could blame Kendell Culp for skipping the evening news.

The 40-year-old Jasper County farmer has enough going on around him to keep his mind occupied: raising 1,600 acres of row crops, tending a couple hundred head of cattle and preparing to move from farrow-to-finish sows to a wean-to-finish operation this spring.

Although he's being pulled in several directions at once, Culp, who farms with his father, Kenneth, still manages to keep up on current events. These days, he's especially attuned to reports about the progress of the 2002 farm bill.

Culp says he's read about the bills that are in the U.S. House and Senate, picked apart the fiscal numbers and even spoken to his congressman about the legislation. He says whatever is eventually approved by Congress and signed by President George Bush will have a direct impact on him and his livelihood--just like the existing 1996 farm bill.

"The current bill has put a safety net under all of us in agriculture. Maybe not as strong a safety net as a lot of us would like to see, but the idea was good," Culp says. "We wanted a market-based, market-oriented bill, and that's what I felt like we had."

The 1996 bill, intended to gradually move farmers off federal support payments, came to be known as "Freedom to Farm." The bill marked a seismic shift in government's role in agriculture and was as loudly criticized by its opponents as it was praised by its supporters.

"I personally was in favor of Freedom to Farm, and still am," Culp says. "Obviously, there can be some modifications to it. But I'm not one who wants to throw out the whole concept and start over again."

Congress may have other ideas. As House and Senate negotiators craft a final 2002 farm bill, it appears the mood on Capitol Hill is leaning toward a return to a more subsidy-driven federal agriculture policy.

The leading bills in the two chambers broaden the size and scope of federal assistance available to farmers. Both bills would earmark about $170 billion for agriculture over the next 10 years.

 

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