The news has been full of foreign subsidy stories lately – whether it’s the trade case America filed against China for excessive corn, wheat and rice subsidies, complaints about Thailand’s sugar subsidy scheme, or the WTO reporting growth in trade restrictions around the globe.
It is under this backdrop that some of U.S. agriculture’s fiercest critics have begun lobbying for the complete elimination of America’s crop insurance system, which was made the centerpiece of U.S. farm policy during the 2014 Farm Bill. In other words, getting rid of America’s farm safety net at a time when our foreign competitors are expanding their subsidies.
So what would such a scenario look like if it were to come to fruition?
Art Barnaby, an economist with Kansas State University, and Levi Russell, an economist with the University of Georgia, provided a pretty good snapshot in a peer-reviewed paper that they recently wrote for Choices Magazine.
Among their findings:
- Land values would fall.
- America would have fewer farmers as consolidation would be inevitable.
- Beginning and young farmers would suffer the most due to limited equity.
- America would be less competitive on a global scale as foreign nations would continue to subsidize and erect barriers to U.S. farm goods.
- Regulatory burdens on U.S. producers, such as EPA regulations, would disadvantage American producers even more.
As for the critics’ hypothesis that a new private-market insurance system would be there to pick up the slack, the authors warn:
It’s unlikely that a free market crop insurance industry would form unless all government subsidies were eliminated. Few farmers would be willing to pay the higher premiums required by a fully-private market as long as the USDA infrastructure is in place for some future Congress to provide ad hoc disaster aid or other cash transfers to farmers. Congress would need to close all forms of support including commodity program payments, disaster payments, and conservation payments. If not, producers would be reluctant to pay unsubsidized premiums for fully-private insurance and would instead push for the reinstatement of disaster payments using the existing infrastructure.
Put another way: Be careful what you wish for.
Eliminating U.S. farm policy in isolation would have devastating consequences for the rural economy and America’s efficient agricultural sector, while rewarding bad actors on the global stage who are eager to seize U.S. market share with the aid of subsidies.