Stable farm income and food for all go together

What's wrong with this picture?

Farmers and ranchers are going broke, or barely hanging on, because of low prices for their products,

Despite gains in the past couple of years, 27 million American consumers face the severe threat of hunger.

What's wrong with this picture is that these parts, interrelated though they are, aren't tied together into one coherent policy on food and farming.

Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio, has often seemed a lonely voice in the House of Representatives to do something about hunger. If he would broaden his hunger concern to include production of food, he might pick up allies.

In the Senate, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., makes the clear distinction that the problem of low commodity prices that devastates agriculture could have at least a partial fix if everyone would be well fed. Congress, his views suggest, is beginning to understand that plans to include the hungry in the demand for food would have some bearing on supply and therefore on farm income.

But he says he still runs into extensive ignorance by many of his colleagues who point to food stamps and the Women, Infants and Children's program and assume the hungry are taken care of.

Here's another case where the nation's food supply ought not be dissected and looked at as disparate issues, following the lines of the urban-rural split.

Congress ought to put together a bipartisan, House-Senate committee. It should strive to look at food and farm together for a national policy that seeks to assure stability in agriculture and access to an abundant food supply for all people. The goal could be an early test of President-elect Bush's commitment to a bipartisan approach in solving the nation's problems.

More than any other secretary of agriculture, Dan Glickman made the connection between sound farm policy and access to good nutrition for everyone in the country. He'll be leaving office soon, but his experience could be helpful.

Previously federal policy solved neither farm nor hunger problems. The huge stashes of farm surpluses indicated just how far traditional agricultural programs had been removed from practical solutions for farmers. At the same time, as soon as surpluses were gone, federal programs for the hungry were abandoned or vastly reduced. In short, federal policy neither supported agriculture nor assured ample food for everyone living in this land of abundance. It probably wouldn't be easy to define a comprehensive farm and food policy that would at least provide some guidance for agriculture and some assurance of food for all.

But it's worth the effort on both sides of the equation. Farm policy ought to be aimed at shoring up the family farm, not just setting aside surpluses that have contributed to low commodity prices. The goal of a food policy should be access to ample food for all, which naturally would include the hungry.

It's time to stop the makeshift approach to both and to start defining means of making wise use of our agricultural bonanza. We owe no less to the people who produce it and the people who rely on it for good nutrition. The two connect.

from Capital Press -

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