During drought years, water restrictions are standard practice. Lawns turn brown and showers become grudgingly shorter. Farmers choose lower water consuming crops and acreage may lay fallow until wetter conditions return. The necessity of this water resource requires everyone to change their habits and practices to protect its availability.
Now imagine if all resources needed for a business were in drought-like conditions year after year. That is the intensifying situation farmers face as every level of government adds to the onerous policy burden. Regulations restrict the resources available to farmers, hurting their ability to be self-reliant. Water, labor, land, and technology are harder to access as policy makers twist rules to meet ideologies.
Farm policy ideology varies intensely across many divides. Protecting farms and providing access to affordable food are two values governing much of the agricultural policy discussion.
Free market agriculture encourages farmers to be more self-reliant and empowers capable adults to meet their own food needs and wants through their own means (food self-reliance).
Many limited resources are needed by farmers to create an affordable and dependable food supply. Water, labor, land, minerals/oil, technology, trade, research, marketing, and financial inputs are all limited resources, though the limitations are natural and man-made. Regulations put additional limitations on these resources, adding to the difficulty of producing a reliable food resource. The increasing regulatory burden will consolidate domestic farming operations and agricultural businesses, endangering an accessible and affordable food supply.
Policies affecting agriculture at the federal, state, and local level should seek to remove restrictions on these resources. Agricultural regulations often affect the availability and accessibility of resources. For example, policy efforts to increase agricultural water supply makes more available for use. Other regulations can affect accessibility to existing water, such as clean water legislation and salmon protections.
Viewing American farmers and families as victims needing to be saved has only compounded their challenges. Regulations, in a myriad of forms, have tightened the obtainability of farm inputs and hurt the ability of farmers to respond to market demands. The resulting farm consolidation has created a food supply tied to higher food costs and an unreliable supply. The post-pandemic food prices and shortages illustrate the problems of farm consolidation driven by overregulation.
Farmers have the potential to thrive when they are unencumbered by excessive regulations. These independent farms can deliver a safer, more reliable, affordable food supply. Mountain States Policy Center is encouraging policymakers to think outside the box and allow farmers to rely on ingenuity to grow a valuable product and participate in markets. At state and local levels, the chance to influence free market agricultural policy with smaller, diverse targets presents a greater opportunity to move the needle, or to keep it from moving in the reverse direction. Look forward to our upcoming study of policy recommendations for free market agriculture, encouraging free market policy changes which benefit all farmers and food consumers.