Considérations sur les programmes agricoles
Part 6, Harwood Schaffer, Daryll E Ray, Agricultural Policy Analysis Center (APAC)
21 Novembre 2016
L’APAC et ses économistes de l’université de Tennessee, Harwood Schaffer, Daryll E Ray alimentent depuis 1992 un site internet sur l’analyse des politiques agricoles. Depuis cette date, l’ensemble de leurs analyses stimulent la réflexion en promouvant des politiques agricoles ambitieuses, une préoccupation qui restent encore au cœur des choix stratégiques américains opérés en matière agricole alors que le débat autour du prochain Farm Bill s’anime à l’approche de l’arrivée du nouveau locataire de la Maison Blanche.
En ce moment, une série de papiers publiés sur le site de l’APAC déroule les principes immuables des politiques agricoles. Dans l’épisode 6 que l’on reproduit ci-après1, les experts reviennent sur l’un des programmes phares du Farm Bill, les marketing loans en soulignant les avantages et inconvénients.
De manière générale, leur positionnement en termes d’intervention publique peut se définir en 4 principes : « a) les programmes agricoles publics sont nécessaires en raison de l'incapacité du secteur agricole, tant du côté de l'offre que de la demande, à s’ajuster aux prix bas à court et à moyen terme, b) les programmes agricoles actuels sont inefficaces pour faire face aux problèmes de prix et de revenu qui résultent de longues périodes de prix bas, c) les programmes agricoles actuels sont plus coûteux que les politiques alternatives qui traitent la cause de ces périodes de prix bas, d) un programme public de gestion des volumes qui mettrait une petite portion d’une culture qui est en excès de demande en réserve, traite de la cause de la baisse chronique des prix ».
L’autorégulation des marchés est un mythe et les périodes de surproduction peuvent durer longtemps et mettre à mal les outils qui ne fonctionnent que dans un contexte de volatilité régulière et de fréquence courte. Prévenir et agir sur les causes est toujours plus efficace et moins couteux que de guérir et de se contenter de limiter les effets.
Si l’histoire des politiques agricoles renseigne sur les composantes de la boite à outils disponible, il convient néanmoins de penser aussi des instruments plus réactifs et plus légers pour rééquilibrer les marchés mais aussi de pouvoir s’inspirer ou de s’appuyer sur des outils existants pour d’autres matières premières. L’aide à la réduction de la production laitière mise en place en Europe en septembre dernier fait partie de la première catégorie. Dans la seconde, on retrouve notamment la flexibilisation des politiques d’incorporation de biocarburants déjà à l’œuvre sur le sucre au Brésil et sur le maïs, mais plus partiellement, aux Etats-Unis2. De la sorte, on réduit l'inélasticité de la demande de produits agricoles, une des principales sources d'instabilité des marchés agricoles.
La rédaction de momagri
In this series of columns, we have argued that a) governmental farm programs are necessary because of the inability of aggregate agriculture on both the supply and demand sides to adjust to low prices in the short-to-medium run, b) current farm programs are ineffective in dealing with the price/income problems that result from extended periods of low prices, c) current farm programs are more expensive than alternative policies that treat the cause of these low price periods, and d) a government supply management program that puts the relatively small amount of a crop that is in excess of current demand into a reserve deals with the cause of chronic low prices (for a fuller discussion of these and related ideas, see www.agpolicy.org, columns 845 to 850).
Early on in the supply management program in the US, when farmers forfeited the portion of their crop used as the basis for a government crop marketing loan in lieu of paying off the loan plus accumulated interest, the ownership of that portion crop was transferred to the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), a government entity. Upon forfeiture of the crop, the farmer would deliver the crop to a bonded warehouse, usually a local elevator that was authorized by the federal government to receive the crop.
The bonded warehouse, which was compensated for the storage of the crop, then held the grain until authorized by the government to sell the crop into the commercial market. The sale was made at the release price. With this sale, the government recouped a portion of the cost of the program, though in a subsequent fiscal year.
Over time, farmers began to argue for a change in the design of the program. They felt it was not right that the government received the higher price for the crop that they grew. They also said that they would benefit if they could hold the grain and have the government give them the storage payment.
In response to pressure from farmers, Congress established a Farmer-Owned Reserve program (FOR). With the FOR, the loan that farmers took out on the crop could be extended beyond the normal 9-months period so that they retained ownership of the grain. They would have to store the grain and keep it in proper condition. In exchange for storing the grain, the farmer was paid a storage payment.
The farmer was not able to sell the crop until a release price was reached at which time the farmer was could sell the crop and use the proceeds of the sale to pay off the loan plus interest. The farmer would be able to keep the difference between the sale price and the loan payoff.
Now let’s look at the difference between the two ways of holding the reserve. When the CCC held the reserve, if the price was not reached, even if it was just a nickel or a penny away from that level, the crop was not sold. The interest of the government in this program was to provide a reasonable, predictable, stable price band that benefitted both producers and crop consumers and was not in receiving the immediate profit. Crop users may have wanted to gain access to the crop, but until the release price was reached it remained in storage.
Compared to that, let us look at what happened with the FOR when it was in effect. Let us begin by remembering that the purpose of a supply management program is to address a market failure by providing a price band within which the price would be set by market forces.
Now suppose that the market needs to ration the crop in response to a change in either supply or demand. Further suppose that the price gets to within a penny of the release price in one crop year and then falls back in the next when production and demand are in closer balance. And suppose it stays that way into another crop year.
Let’s now look at the interest of farmers who are holding the crop in the FOR. The financial interest of individual farmers is to receive the profit at its highest point so they would and did argue for the release price to be lowered a bit so they could have made the sale.
And that is exactly what happened. Originally the release price was set to provide a reasonable price band. But bit by bit, Congress and/or the USDA responded to lobbying by farmers, others who wanted a freer market, and those opposed farm programs altogether and the release price was lowered. Eventually, the release price was essentially abandoned making the FOR ineffective in its original purpose to protect farmers from prices that were too low and consumers from prices that were too high.
If a price management program were to be reinstituted, the challenge of determining who is to hold the crop must be addressed. If farmers are willing to understand that they benefit from the loan, the storage payments, the protection from low prices, and a stable release price then an FOR would work. If either Congress or the USDA were likely to respond to lobbying by lowering the release price, then the CCC would be the proper entity to hold the crop.
Next week we will begin our column with a discussion of ways to reduce production when the amount of the crop in the begins to reach its upper limit.
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