June 22 2012

Farm Welfare

Julie Gunlock

On Thursday, the Senate passed a five-year reauthorization of the farm bill providing nearly…hold on to your seat…ONE TRILLION DOLLARS to fund conservation programs, continued funding for the already bloated food stamp program, and for subsidies for farmers.

This is Washington at its wasteful best but during these tough economic times, the bite of this massive waste might sting a little more than normal. As Americans of all economic levels suffer, farmers are about to get a huge, and unnecessary, infusion of tax dollars even though they clearly do not need this taxpayer funded cushion.

As Veronique Du Rugy pointed out over on NRO:

Farm households have higher incomes, on average, than do nonfarm U.S. households. Figures from the USDA show that in 2010 the mean farm household income was $84,400, up 9.4 percent from 2009. This is 25 percent higher than the average U.S. household income of $67,530 as reported by the Census Bureau for 2010.

Du Rugy also points out that a very few farmers actually benefit from these payouts:

Second, farm subsidies tend to flow toward the largest and wealthiest farm businesses. According to the Environmental Working Group database, in 2010, 10 percent of farms received 74 percent of all subsidies. These recipients are large commercial farms with more than $250,000 in sales and mostly produced crops tied to political interests. The Cato Institute’s Tad DeHaven and Chris Edwards calculate that more than 90 percent of all farm subsidies go to farmers of just five crops — corn, wheat, soybeans, rice and cotton. For every federal dollar spent on farm subsidies, 19 cents goes to small farms, 19 cents to intermediate (middle-income) farms and 62 cents to the largest commercial farms.

In an interesting alliance, food activists that push for regulations and those against food regulations both oppose farm subsidies which largely support the five crops mentioned above.  Yet, disagreement occurs when these groups seek a solution to the farm subsidy issue. Food nannies don't want the subsidies ended, instead they want the subsidies shifted to the vegetables of which they approve--like salad vegetables (lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots) which receive very little in terms of government assistance.  

IWF’s Women for Food Freedom project promotes a different solution: get rid of agriculture subsidies all together, or at the very least make an honest effort to reduce these wasteful payouts. At a time of trillion dollar deficits and out growing budget problems, Congress has no business spending trillions on an agriculture policy that benefits wealthy corporations and farmers who don’t need the assistance. Levelling the market place, allowing for competition, and getting the government out of the agriculture sector might seem like a simplistic solution, but it’s the only way towards real food reform in this country.

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