Professor Carl Zulauf, often cited as the Department’s, the College’s and the wider University’s resident farm policy expert, recently sat down to talk about his background, the history of the U.S. Farm Bill and his thoughts on its future.
Zulauf grew up on an Ohio farm and still maintains strong ties to this farm as a landowner. Zulauf credits this experience as equally as critical to his success in the agricultural world as his academic background. He currently markets his share of the grain produced on his land and this practical connection links him more deeply with the field and allows him to understand the audiences that he often represents and aims to engage with in his research.
As Zulauf stated, “it is this historical relationship that keeps me in touch with the economic realities of Ohio farmers and allows me to have a good understanding of the production restraints that farmers confront.”
Zulauf, who earned B.S. and M.S. degrees, both in Agricultural Economics, from The Ohio State University, as well as M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the Food Research Institute at Stanford University, values his diverse exposure to the field of agricultural economics while a student. It was in these different educational settings that he was given access to a wide variety of perspectives, which solidified in him a focus on questions, rather than answers, in his research. To this day he aims to challenge the students in his classes to focus on the questions at the heart of their studies.
In 1985, Zulauf worked for Ohio Senator John Glenn’s office assisting his agricultural policy team in offering policy recommendations for the 1985 Farm Bill. This experience was monumental, exposing him to the complexities of the public policy formulation process.
As Zulauf recounted, “It was in Senator Glenn’s office that I understood that the degree of complexity in how policy is formulated is often too difficult to capture in a textbook – simply put, it has so many dimensions. There are multiple perspectives to any policy issue and each of those perspectives has elements of appropriateness. Policy options tend to be better or worse, rather than good or bad, which was an eye opening observation for me in 1985.”
The ACRE Program
In 2008, Zulauf made a significant contribution to the farm policy debate by offering to policymakers a conceptual framework that became the basis for the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program, which was crafted into legislation and introduced to the 2008 Farm Bill debate by Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois. The ACRE program was eventually secured as policy in the 2008 Farm Bill (Food, Energy and Conservation Act of 2008).
The ACRE program aims to protect farmers from low revenue resulting from either low prices or low yields. Assistance to farmers through ACRE is revenue-based and is determined by state prices and yields. To receive payments farmers must meet individual loss requirements. Farmers choose to enroll in the ACRE program or the traditional suite of farm support programs, which focus only on low prices.
Zulauf notes that the debate surrounding the ACRE program was in progress for a number of years with many voices contributing to the discussion. The framework for ACRE that Zulauf drafted was built out of years of discussion amongst agricultural economists, farmers and policymakers regarding the need for a revenue-based assistance program for farmers. ACRE was the first revenue program enacted through legislation.
As Zulauf noted, “Prior to ACRE the legislation only focused on fixed prices. In contrast, ACRE was a definitive statement regarding tying farm policy not only to revenue but also to what was going on in the market. Additionally, ACRE was a statement that risk management based on revenue instability is where farm programs are headed. It was really the first program to raise the issue of crop insurance as part of the farm safety net envisioned in the Farm Bill.”
Regarding the historic importance of the ACRE program, Senator Brown notes, "Ohio farmers deserve a safety-net that supports them when prices drop or natural disaster strikes…The ACRE program is major reform to current farm programs which helps farmers in Ohio better manage the risk inherent in agriculture. Prior to the 2008 Farm Bill, I held a series of roundtables throughout Ohio, where I asked farmers to tell me what a common sense farm safety-net looks like. Ohio farmers did more than give opinions, they came up with solutions. I'm grateful for their insight, their guidance, and their invaluable input. As a result, for the first time ever, Ohio farmers now receive support that insures against revenue instability which makes more sense than the traditional price-focused safety net for many farmers."
The Future of the Farm Bill
Zulauf believes that the 2012 Farm Bill, which is currently being debated in Congress, will feature a heavy focus on risk management programs similar to ACRE – he doesn’t see the trend towards developing market-oriented policies turning around anytime in the near future.
Zulauf also commented on the significant changes that the Farm Bill has undergone since its inception after the Great Depression, “The Farm Bill has become progressively more encompassing. It is incorrect to say that farm policy has ever been just about farms, however, at its inception it was largely about farmers. In the 1950s, trade was added as part of the Farm Bill. In the 1960s nutrition assistance was added. And, in the 1980s conservation was emphasized. Most recently, in this century, we’ve seen local foods being added to the Farm Bill agenda. We are seeing a steady progression in the number of clients affected by the Farm Bill – it has become a social compact between rural America and America in general.”
The beauty of the Farm Bill lies in this social compact and in this attempt to make policy work for many diverse audiences. As Zulauf noted, “Though our current debate has many different actors and dynamics, which would surprise the original creators of the Farm Bill, it is in fact good that the Farm Bill is all-encompassing. We’ve created for ourselves the opportunity to rethink our relationships to each other through the Farm Bill every few years.”
To learn more about Carl Zulauf and to access some of his recent publications regarding the Farm Bill debate, please visit his profile on the AEDE website.
October 17, 2012