WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Barry Flinchbaugh, professor
emeritus of agricultural economics at Kansas State University, might be walking
with the use of a cane these days, but he pulled no punches in delivering a
biting assessment of U.S. farm policy, politics and economics.
“I turn off the news and I go to bed and I say to myself,
‘Well, it can’t get any worse.’ Then I get up the next morning and turn on the
TV, and it has gotten worse overnight,” he said.
Wearing his trademark K-State purple shirt and jacket,
Flinchbaugh lamented that work done by Sen. Pat Roberts, former ranking member
on the Senate Agriculture Committee, and that committee’s “chairlady,” Sen.
Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., had been lost.
“He and the chairlady, Mrs. Stabenow from Michigan, decided
more than a year ago they would put farmers first and partisan politics second,
which is rare today,” he said. “Jan. 1, 2013, all that good work just
disappeared because anything that occurred in the 112th Congress died.”
Flinchbaugh warned that crop insurance, a key to the 2012
farm bill, will be a moving target for the new Congress as it seeks ways to cut
the federal deficit.
“I need to remind you that crop insurance is going to be an
issue in the battle over cutting government spending,” said Flinchbaugh, who
observed that crop insurance performed as any insurance is expected to do.
“We obviously don’t want to make agriculture risk-proof, but
I’m damned tired of hearing you have this record drought, but net farm income is
going up a bit because of crop insurance. Duh! Isn’t that why you bought it?
Isn’t that why you have crop insurance? Isn’t that why I have my house insured?
So if it burns down, I’m still economically sound?”
Flinchbaugh also quashed the idea to remove the nutrition
titles from the farm bill, noting that those programs make up 80 percent of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture’s budget.
“This will be the beginning of the end for the U.S.
Department of Agriculture,” said Flinchbaugh, listing the various new homes that
different programs, from conservation to meat inspection, would find in other
agencies. “We would take the pesticide regulations and put it in EPA. Are you
ready for that?”
Flinchbaugh said that removing the feeding programs also
would mean the end of the farm programs.
“If we take all these feeding programs out of agriculture,
there will be no more farm bills,” he said.
He said that the so-called economic uncertainty is not what
“It is fashionable to argue about all this economic
uncertainty and how the American economy is not very productive and how bad
these economic times are. That’s fashionable. It’s also wrong. It’s not economic
uncertainty — it’s political uncertainty,” he said.
Flinchbaugh, who was born in York, Pa., and first traveled
to Washington, D.C., in 1948, and who advised national leaders on farm policy
from 1968 forward, said the political climate in the nation’s capital is as
negative as he can recall.
“I began working on farm bills in 1968 with Earl Butz. I
have never seen the overall economic situation or the budge affect a farm bill
more than it’s affected what was to be the 2012 bill and now, hopefully, will be
the 2013,” he said.
“Going back to 1948, when I made my first trip to
Washington, I’ve never seen the nation’s capital more dysfunctional, more
mean-spirited, more partisan or downright unworkable than it is now. This is the
issue of our times.”
But Flinchbaugh didn’t spare anyone from his blunt
“Last fall, they had the irresponsibility or the audacity to
leave town and not pass a farm bill in the depths of a 60-year drought,” he
“If that doesn’t meet the definition of irresponsibility, I
don’t know what does. Yet, what did we do in November? The status quo.
Evidently, we’re not convinced it’s bad enough yet to kick the bums out.”