Shipping Industry Watches Farm Bill Debate

While much of the narrative of the 2012 Farm Bill has focused on corn subsidies and crop insurance, the maritime shipping industry, perhaps an unlikely beneficiary of federal farm policy, is anxiously watching the Senate debate.

The vast majority of the farm bill debate has revolved around the contentious issue of farm subsidies. Southern cotton and peanut farmers, for example, are unhappy at the loss of direct payments, while environmental groups are unhappy that significant federal subsidies may end up going to large-scale agribusinesses. Meanwhile, in the midst of this policy debate, the maritime shipping industry is quietly watching, knowing that their future rests on the funding decisions in the upcoming bill.

The current farm bill contains several different funding authorizations to foreign aid programs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in conjunction with the State Department, oversees a variety of farm and food aid programs. Programs such as Food for Peace, one of the largest international food aid programs, are funded through money authorized in the farm bill.

One of the major beneficiaries of these foreign aid programs are shipping companies. Obscure federal law requires that the majority of cargo related to foreign aid programs be delivered in vessels registered in the U.S. A report by USA Maritime suggests that international food aid programs helped create 13,000 shipping jobs and generated about $2 billion in output for U.S. industries.

While the Senate farm bill continues the funding for many food aid programs, including Food for Peace, rumblings in the House suggest that many aid programs could face drastic spending cuts, including the near elimination of Food for Peace.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer