It appears to us that the farm bill is in some sort of limbo caught between a hastily constructed 12-month extension of some, but not all, of the elements the 2008 legislation and the need of Congress to address fiscal issues including the threat of sequestration if nothing is done. It is not even clear when the farm bill will be addressed or to what extent the process will be open to the public.

While farmers certainly will be able to use the crop insurance program for the 2013 crop year, we are unclear as to whether or not farmers will receive the direct payments included in the extension resolution or whether they will be negotiated away as a part of the budget debate.

In this climate of uncertainty, we want to take a step back and look at some major elements of a sensible agricultural policy. In our reflection, we have identified four major elements: environmental sustainability, human physical sustainability, economic sustainability, and political sustainability. Over this column and the next three, we will be examining these concepts, one at a time, recognizing that there is considerable interplay among the elements.

As we think about environmental sustainability, it seems to us that we need to start with the recognition the world has stood on its own. The environment regulated itself for billions of years before humans made their relatively recent appearance on the face of the earth and it undoubtedly would continue to do so if humans were no longer around.