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A joke about drunken friends reminds me of current farm policy

We have a farm bill, and we need it. But I’m reminded of a joke I’ve heard most of my life when I think about current farm policy.

Here’s the joke:

Four friends drove in one car to a bar to have a good night. One of those friends, we’ll call him Cliff, was legally blind. With big, thick glasses, Cliff could barely make out faces close up. His vision farther down field was worse. The friends stayed at the bar well into early morning. All but Cliff got pretty ripped. Cliff was never a big drinker.

Bar closed. “You ain’t gotta go home but you can’t stay here.” The three big drinkers could barely walk or focus their eyes, much less be trusted to hold a set of car keys. They looked at the car and then looked at Cliff. Cliff, though the soberest, well, was still blind Cliff and had no business driving a car even when completely sober. But behind the steering wheel they haphazardly plopped Cliff.

As you would guess, not long after leaving the bar’s parking lot, Cliff’s visually challenged driving caught the eye of a sheriff’s deputy parked along road. He pulled Cliff over, and asked for Cliff’s license. Cliff had none and said he was legally blind. The deputy leaned into the car and asked, “All you boys blind, too.” The friends mumbled, “No.”

“Why y’all letting a blind man drive y’all home?” the deputy asked.

One of the friends leaned over and grinned at the deputy and said, “Because he was the best option we had at the time.”

I don’t mean this joke is a perfect analogy of the current state of ag policy in the U.S. It’s just a joke that popped into my mind when thinking about the current farm bill.

The 2014 farm bill is being tested hard, particularly as it relates to Southeast agriculture, where we’ve seen just this year damaging drought and historic flooding, all with a backdrop of the lowest commodity prices and farm income in a generation. This farm bill was crafted to rely more heavily on crop insurance incentives. But it is hard to insurance your way to economic stability; just ask the South Carolina farmers who lost their entire crop harvest due to late-season flooding this year.

And already this year, Washington is monkeying around with crop insurance with a budget deal in October that stripped $3 billion in funding for crop insurance programing. Though the Highway Bill passed in December reversed the $3 billion cut, farm leaders still expect crop insurance funding to come under attack as this farm bill matures.

Expect future farm bills to be tougher to negotiate, says senator

The U.S. ag industry has good people in Washington fighting for better ag policy and good support from many in Congress, but you know it isn’t like it used to be and it hasn’t been good in a long time.

Many Southeast farmers feel this farm bill left them hanging. Southeast ag leaders are now trying to find ways to help the farm bill help farmers better.

Efforts led by the National Cotton Council are aimed at getting Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack to use his current power under the farm bill to classify cottonseed as an “other oilseed,” which would make cottonseed eligible for the Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs and provide a much-needed safety net for cottonseed and cotton farmers facing what is being called “predatory foreign competition” by China and India, which has left U.S. farmers financially struggling with few options.

Some Southern commodity organizations are trying to get generic commodity certificates reinstated for the 2015 and 2016 crops. The generic certificates could be used in place of potential loan deficiency payments or market loan gains and not be counted against a grower’s payment limits under the farm bill now, particularly for peanut farmers facing Marketing Loan Gain from peanuts being redeemed from loan.

Saxby Chambliss is the recently retired senator from Georgia, and he assisted in writing the 1996, 2002, 2008 and 2014 farm bills, and was one of only four folks locked in a room to negotiate the stubborn 2008 farm bill. He told the audience at the Georgia Farm Bureau Convention Dec. 7 to expect future farm bills to be even tougher to negotiate and to craft. “We know that payments coming out of DC are significantly less than what they’ve ever been, and that’s the trend of the future we are going to have to operate in,” he said.

In other words, blind Cliff is the best we have right now and might be for the foreseeable future.

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