Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

From competition to national security: Policy change and policy stability in the 2008 farm bill
by Lehrer, Nadine, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, 2008, 230; 3310619
Abstract (Summary)

In 2005, an observer of the 2008 farm bill debates might have thought that U.S. farm policy was on the brink of change. World Trade Organization (WTO) pressure to reduce domestic agricultural supports was making headline news. Agricultural groups were justifying their farm bill positions by citing trade concerns. But in 2006, WTO negotiations were suspended, and WTO as a major public driver of the farm bill debates stalled alongside them. Although still acknowledged by most stakeholders as relevant to domestic agricultural policy, WTO forces were no longer highlighted by interest groups or the press as a principal farm bill driver the way they had been previously.

Meanwhile, in 2006-08, an ethanol boom surfaced as a new driver of farm bill debates. Rising gas prices, political instability, and fossil fuel depletion caused many Americans to see U.S. reliance on imported petroleum as a vulnerability, and to advocate domestic fuel production as a policy goal. Ethanol was seen as the primary way to move America towards "energy independence." It was touted as an environmentally-friendly energy alternative and a source of economic revitalization for rural America.

This dissertation argues that ethanol became a prominent driver of farm policy in 2006-08, in part because it helped policymakers sidestep previous debates over farm bill reform. Alongside the decline in WTO pressure to reform commodity subsidies, growth in ethanol markets alleviated budgetary pressures by raising crop prices. Combined with a framing of biofuels that tapped into public support for the environment and for national security, this convergence dimmed the spotlight over alternate approaches to agricultural sustainability and renewable energy.

This dissertation draws on social movement and policy change theories, and incorporates discourse analysis into the study of farm policy. It seeks to understand how and why shifting contexts changed the tenor of 2008 farm bill debates, and what implications this had for farm policy and sustainable land use. Results suggest that while the focus on ethanol circumvented reform efforts that could have benefited the environment and rural communities, it also created some new possibilities for environmental and social sustainability in agriculture in the longer term.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Schurman, Rachel, Becker, Dennis
Commitee: Nelson, Kristen, Porter, Paul, Schuh, G. Edward
School: University of Minnesota
Department: Natural Resources Science and Management
School Location: United States -- Minnesota
Source: DAI-A 69/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Social research, Forestry, Political science
Keywords: Agricultural policy, Discourse analysis, Ethanol/biofuels, Farm bill, Framing, International trade, Policy change, Policy window
Publication Number: 3310619
ISBN: 978-0-549-58545-9
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