Resolved: That the United States should substantially change its federal agricultural policy.
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|Source: CongressDaily/A.M., Oct 25, 2000 pNA.
Title: Leading `Freedom To Farm' Advocate Now Calls For Overhaul.(Brief Article)
Full Text COPYRIGHT 2000 National Journal Group, Inc.
WASHINGTON -- Oct-25 -- (CongressDaily) John Schnittker, a Kennedy Administration USDA official and agribusiness consultant who signed a letter in 1996 supporting the Freedom to Farm bill, said Tuesday the act was "an expensive failure," and the next president and Congress should restore the agriculture secretary's ability to idle land and control production.
Schnittker's support for Freedom to Farm was noted because most of the signators were Republicans, while he had been a deputy to Kennedy Agriculture Secretary Freeman.
Schnittker told a seminar for grain trade executives and reporters in the offices of the American Farmland Trust that Freedom to Farm has resulted in expensive subsidies, part of which could better be spent on conservation programs.
Schnittker, joined by Iowa State University agriculture professor Neil Harl, another critic of Freedom to Farm, said it is time to reform the act even though it does not expire until 2002. Schnittker and Harl both said they were not advising any candidates, although in response to a question, Schnittker pointed out that GOP nominee George W. Bush has given "unqualified support" to Freedom to Farm, and Democratic nominee Al Gore favors aid to farmers when prices are low.
Reminded by Ann Tutwiler, a lobbyist for Central Soya, that he had supported Freedom to Farm, Schnittker said, "That was then and this is now." He said he had signed the letter at former Republican Agriculture Secretary Block's request--but he had reservations because the bill took away the secretary's authority to reduce acreage and terminated the farmer-owned reserve of grain. Except for Tutwiler's question, the grain executives, who fear that decreased production would lead to higher commodity prices, remained silent.
Both Schnittker and Harl expressed interest in the "flexible fallow" proposal introduced by Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D. Under flexible fallow, a farmer who puts some acreage in conservation programs would enjoy a higher floor price on production from other acreage. Harl said the program would remove marginal acreage production.
Harl also said Congress should transfer enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act from USDA to the Justice Department, and when agribusiness companies merge, the impact on agricultural producers should be taken into consideration.
Current law covers only consumers. The way the pork industry is developing, Harl said, hog producers will find that if they are dissatisfied with the processors to whom they are selling, the nearest competitive processor will be hundreds of miles away. Harl said the government should consider the impact of retail mergers on farmers, because five companies now control 42 percent of retail food sales. -- Jerry Hagstrom