The Garden City Telegram
3/25/2014
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Farms first — Policymakers should pursue ways to save family farms

The road to a new Farm Bill was fraught with twists and turns.

Bitter congressional debate over the bill centered on farming subsidies and efforts to reduce financing for food stamps.

Federal lawmakers eventually arrived at legislation that, while not ideal in every way, did include strategies to give more farmers a solid start.

A sharp cut in direct payments to farmers that would save about $19 billion over 10 years was controversial. But at least some of the savings will be channeled into assistance for farmers and producers, including a revamped loan program.

That aspect of the 2014 Farm Bill should help encourage a new generation of farmers, and benefit those currently in the business.

On Monday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack outlined particulars of the more flexible loan opportunities, with an emphasis on beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers.

It was a fitting announcement during national Agriculture Week, with this year's theme "Agriculture: 365 Sunrises and 7 Billion Mouths to Feed."

As they feed the world, farmers also play a huge part in economic well-being.

Ag products top the list of the nation's exports. Ag also is the biggest economic driver in Kansas, valued at more than $35 billion, according to the Kansas Farm Bureau.

But on the downside, too many farm families struggle to make a living.

Many family farms have been sold to bigger farm operations, and young Kansans who grew up on a farm have opted for another way of life. Such factors contribute to the continuing erosion of rural populations in Kansas.

The situation is cause to pursue new and innovative ways to preserve farms — and, give more young Kansans reasons to stay home and be productive in a strong ag state.

Give credit to federal legislators on both sides of the aisle who saw the need to make the next generation of farmers a cornerstone of the new Farm Bill.

Helping to cultivate a growing interest in farming makes good business sense. Consider the initiatives a savvy investment in creating and preserving jobs, as well — a worthwhile endeavor in any field.