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All We Want For Christmas

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Seven Wish Lists For Agriculture Policy Change

By Vincent H. Smith

It is Christmastime, even for economists focused on U.S. agricultural policy and what should and should not be in a new farm bill.

Thus, seven scholars and contributors to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Monthly Harvest were asked to send Santa Claus their wish lists for policy changes Congress should include in a new 2024 Farm Bill.

Each author focused on a specific program or set of programs addressed in the current farm bill and related legislation. They also identified explicit changes in policies, if Congress were willing to implement them, would improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the U.S. agricultural sector and the U.S. economy. 

Many of these changes would reduce adverse environmental impacts, use federal funds more effectively, and by enhancing agricultural productivity, improve the resilience of the U.S. food supply chain and moderate prices, therefore benefiting the roughly 330 million U.S. citizens who buy and eat food every day.

Two major themes run through the seven wish lists.

First, in a new farm bill, Congress should use federal funds responsibly and effectively, not in a profligate effort to satisfy and garner votes and other forms of support from vested special farm and agribusiness interest groups. 

Second, the focus should be on programs which improve the agricultural sector’s efficiency, increasing – not reducing – agricultural productivity, mitigating adverse environmental impacts as effectively as possible, and as Christopher Barrett explicitly discusses, contributing to national security.

As Barry Goodwin points out in his wish list, which sets the tone for many of the changes recommended by other scholars, at a time when the federal deficit is extraordinarily and arguably irresponsibly large – six or seven percent of gross domestic product – Congress should be seizing every one of the many opportunities the farm bill offers to reduce wasteful spending.

Barrett’s wish list focuses on what is literally the existential crisis for U.S. agriculture – the collapse of U.S. agricultural productivity growth over the past two decades, which has been directly linked to a corresponding sharp decline in federal funding for agricultural research and development. 

His wishes for substantial, sustained and effectively targeted increases in this funding from about $2.5 billion to $5 billion or more reflects a widespread assessment the U.S. agricultural sector will be in serious trouble in the long run if action is not taken now. 

Further, such investments will have major spillover impacts on both U.S. and global food systems, making significant contributions to national security by reducing the impacts of hunger on domestic unrest and terrorism in low-income countries.

Joseph Glauber’s wish list is straightforward. 

All he wants for Christmas is a trade agenda with teeth which enables the World Trade Organization to operate effectively and expands market access for all agricultural and other commodities. 

Along with almost all economists who care about U.S. economic welfare and an economic environment that reduces the likelihood of international conflicts, he also wants a shift away from the protectionist trade policies introduced by the Trump administration and continued by the Biden administration, albeit with a less rancorous tone.

For many years, economists have been concerned about conservation programs which are poorly targeted and managed, often because of myopic regional political objectives. 

Erik Lichtenberg’s wish list identifies four important ways to reform working lands, land retirement and conservation easement programs to increase substantially the climate change, water safety and other environmental benefits, which can be obtained with current levels of federal funding.

In our wish lists, Eric Belasco and I address the profligacy of the major farm income safety-net programs. 

Belasco’s wish list includes asking Congress to resist farm interest groups’ efforts to increase Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage program subsidies so farmers get payments from those programs all the time, even when agricultural prices and farm income levels are well above average. 

I ask Congress to create a pathway for change in federal risk-management programs which would shift farmers away from the astonishingly wasteful federal crop insurance program to a less costly and more efficient standing disaster aid program.

In his wish list, which provides an important bookend for this Monthly Harvest Christmas edition, Daniel Sumner calls for Congress to split the nutrition programs out of the farm bill and give these poverty-reduction-focused initiatives their own legislation. 

The most important rationale for this change is to ensure Congress will look more closely and critically at the efficiency and effectiveness of agricultural and nutritional programs instead of lumping them together in an omnibus bill that, as a result, is confusing, and in terms of its implications, almost impossible to deconstruct.

Vincent H. Smith is the nonresident senior fellow and director of agriculture policy studies at AEI. To read the seven individual wish lists, visit

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