Barry Flinchbaugh, professor emeritus of agricultural economics at Kansas State University, talks farm policy to an audience at the sixth annual Land Investment Expo, sponsored by Peoples Co. in West Des Moines, Iowa. Flinchbaugh discussed agriculture, the farm bill, economics and political reality during his presentation.
Barry Flinchbaugh, professor emeritus of agricultural economics at Kansas State University, talks farm policy to an audience at the sixth annual Land Investment Expo, sponsored by Peoples Co. in West Des Moines, Iowa. Flinchbaugh discussed agriculture, the farm bill, economics and political reality during his presentation.

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 seems.

“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 assessments.

“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 said.

“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.”