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GUEST COMMENTARY: Farm bill is always an easy target

Monday, January 17, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 5:01 p.m. CST, Monday, January 17, 2011

With record federal deficits, the new Congress has the daunting task of making some cuts in government spending, but where will they make the cuts — Social Security or Medicare?

Neither is likely because these entitlements are very popular and affect a large percentage of the population.

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What politicians would like to find is something to whittle away that does not affect so many people. They need a scapegoat, if you will, to show the people that Congress is doing something about the deficit without stepping on the toes of huge segments of voters — something like the Farm Bill.

We hear the stories every year about this time. You know, how big city millionaires are picking Uncle Sam's pocket, getting huge farm subsidy checks. We will probably hear even more of those stories this year because Congress will likely begin working on the 2012 Farm Bill that will replace the current legislation.

The biggest percentage of the money in the Farm Bill is not directed to farmers or farm programs at all.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, nearly 80 percent of the Farm Bill budget goes to pay for food stamps and child nutrition programs. Another 7 percent or so pays for conservation programs. Imagine a member of Congress touting doing away with food stamps and the votes those stamps represent.

Farmers are a very small part of the population, though, and cutting their share of the Farm Bill budget would not result in nearly as many lost votes. Additionally, this is the part of Farm Bill the media love to attack, making farmers an even easier target.

Cutting the approximate 13 percent of the Farm Bill budget remaining, however, would eliminate all of our nation's farm commodity support, crop insurance and export programs. These are the programs most vulnerable to attack, and yet they are the very programs designed to keep the United States self-sufficient in food production.

Just what would we save by sacrificing our support of America's farmers? According to Craig Jagger, chief economist for the House Committee on Agriculture, deleting agriculture's share would only reduce the total federal government spending 0.38 percent.

This is not to say improvements should not be made to the way farm programs are budgeted or managed, but we all have a vested interest in ensuring our current and future food supply.

With fewer farmers than ever before in our nation's history, we had better consider what it takes to keep our farmers producing instead of cutting our food security off at the roots.

Denny Banister of Jefferson City is the assistant director of public affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau, the state's largest farm organization.


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Comments

Christopher Foote January 17, 2011 | 11:15 a.m.

The vast majority of farm subsidies go to large corporate agriculture entities. I think there should be a cap on how much any one entity may receive. This would benefit the small family farmer who under the current system are at a competitive disadvantage. According to the USDA, 62 percent of farmers in the United States did not collect subsidy payments. The top 10% of recipients collected 74 percent of all subsidies. This equals $157.7 billion over the past 15 years. The average payment between 1995 and 2009 for the top 10% was $29,658 per year. For the bottom 80% the average payment was $572 per year. We need to quit redistributing our tax dollars to wealthy corporations. I think farm subsidies are an excellent place to start in eliminating wasteful government spending.

(Report Comment)
Clara Allen January 17, 2011 | 1:35 p.m.

but we all have a vested interest in ensuring our current and future food supply....................
to keep the United States self-sufficient in food production.

**************

Yeah, and the less all of us rely on corporate agriculture which as stated above, gets the majority of the subsidies - the better off all of us will be.

Self sufficient? If self sufficiency is the goal then subsidies are in the way. It's the small farmers who are not receiving subsides who are self sufficient, not the corporations that get the subsidies.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock January 17, 2011 | 2:12 p.m.

Without large corporate ag then you can expect food prices to rise. Some people may not like large cooperation but they do supply a lot of food cheaply. I find it funny how Liberals rail on these types of groups and in the same breath demand more money for the poor. Who do you think will be affected the most when food prices rise? The poor. The rich can buy the organic foods. The only reason why there are fewer farmers is because it doesn't pay enough and or you have to have a second job.

(Report Comment)
Shelley Powers January 18, 2011 | 8:34 a.m.

If the prices rise, who will be impacted the most are those who think McD's is the place to go for lunch or dinner every day.

In the documentary, King Corn, we see how the government subsidies encourage a type of farming that even the farmers don't like--not the true farmers. The price of corn is kept artificially low, and is then used, either to make high fructose corn syrup, or to fatten cows. Except the cows get sick eating the corn, so they have to use antibiotics.

And the primary destination of the meat is fast food restaurants, and the corn syrup, pop companies, accounting for a growing level of obesity in the country.

We have lower food prices, per capita, than most countries in the world. Yet we have one of the unhealthier diets, and some of the highest levels of obesity.

I would be willing to see grants for farmers: to help them keep the small family farm, to help establish cooperatives, to convert over to more sustainable farming methods. But it's time to end Big Crop subsidies.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire January 18, 2011 | 10:27 a.m.

That must have been an old film you watched. Now there is a subsidy for people to use corn for conversion to alcohol to burn in their cars and pickup trucks. So the price of corn is artificially high and every other grain has followed suit. The actual cost of production is irrelevant now. If a farmer has trouble making it now it is either because of a bad season or because the manipulated price of grains manipulated the value of the farmland to the point where the bank is taking too big a chunk of any earnings. The price of the land has gone up enough as a result of the manipulated market that anyone who bought when times were otherwise stands to make a significant gain. Corporations just happen to be the ones at the trough today.

Given the fact that the main result of the food for fuel program is that there is now essentially an unlimited demand for any type of grain, there is an even better reason to quit the subsidies. Of course, it would be better if we were to quit subsidizing ethanol, but since the price of land has adjusted to a speculation that the current demand for grains is a constant, that would leave farmers hanging in the wind once again and probably twice the level of CRP would not be enough to avert a lot of economic disaster. The best answer would be to trim the subsidies for now until someone figures out what to do about the ethanol problem. If someone figures out what to do about the ethanol problem.

(Report Comment)
Shelley Powers January 18, 2011 | 1:16 p.m.

Paul, you're right about the new biofuel effort, except that this hasn't grown as fast as some people wanted.

For instance, one organization wanted to open up a biofuel plant towards Springfield, but was fought by the locals because these plants suck up the water like crazy and the locals were, rightfully, concerned about permanent degradation of the water table.

In addition, biofuels are not an efficient fuel source, taking almost as much energy to create as they provide. We're already starting to see a drawing back from biofuel, including from Al Gore who was a major proponent of the technology.

At the same time,the new perceived biofuel demand has caused some farmers who used to grow other crops to convert over to, you guessed it, corn.

I agree with you that the subsidy really isn't needed for corn, and that it's time to let the market control the costs for this product.

(PS King Corn was produced in 2007 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1112115/. )

(Report Comment)
Shelley Powers January 18, 2011 | 1:18 p.m.

PS I forgot to say, I also agree with your ethanol comments.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking January 18, 2011 | 2:38 p.m.

The entire issue with biofuels is that they are a diffuse energy source. Petroleum is also a "biofuel" except it represents a concentration of biomass over many thousands of years. Biofuels require tremendous amounts of land to match that kind of energy density.

Unfortunately, the very energy density of petroleum has allowed us to use it (and become dependent on it) in ways that will be very difficult to find an alternate fuel source for. All biofuel startups so far have been business ventures, not energy solutions, and it's unlikely we will ever get truly significant amounts of energy from them.

DK

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock January 18, 2011 | 8:00 p.m.

Shelly I am not sure who told you cows get sick from eating corn but you are mistaken. They happen to love corn and do very well on it. It creates better marbling than regular grass fed beef.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock January 20, 2011 | 10:00 a.m.

Shelly you are going to have to do better than that with your research.

"Acidosis is the most important nutritional disorder in feedlots today. Caused by a rapid production and absorption of acids from the rumen when cattle consume too much starch (primarily grain) or sugar in a short period of time, acidosis causes cattle to be stressed." (cattle network your cite)

I guess you overlooked the too much starch or sugar in the short amount of time. This condition is also not treated with antibiotics as acidosis is a rumen problem from having a low PH. I guess you confused the root word Acid with virus. The other resources are not credible. The sustain link article does not have any proper peer reviewed data.

I will concede the point that grass fed beef is leaner. That is why I said it had less marbling. Marbling is the fat in the meat that some consumers prefer. If it does have less fat then some may consider it healthier.

Shelly I don't have a single thing against organic hormone free grass fed beef. In fact I may give it a go if I can garner enough demand to make it worth my while. But when for every death loss you have on a farm that averages about $600 depending on the size. If the market tanks in a year those death loses can mean losing money and not breaking even.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote January 20, 2011 | 1:48 p.m.

@Mr Sharrock,

I don't think Mrs. Powers was implying that antibiotics are administered for viruses (that would be silly, as antibiotics target bacteria not viruses). It is however a common practice for feedlots to administer Rumensin (inhibits gas production in the rumen, helping to prevent bloat) and tylosin (reduces the incidence of liver infection)to corn fed cows that are more susceptible to these ailments due to acidosis.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock January 21, 2011 | 9:33 a.m.

@Mr. Foote, You are correct about the virus bit. It was my first blog comment of the day and well I had not fully woke up yet since I was enjoying a snow day. :) I do think Shelly was implying that cows get sick from the corn and have to be given antibiotics because of that sickness. I concluded acidosis was the sickness she referred to since it was in the link she provided. Here is her comment about corn and antibiotics.

"Except the cows get sick eating the corn, so they have to use antibiotics." (Ms Powers)

Either way I don't have anything against grass feed beef. Personally I think if more cattle was grass fed then there would be more farmers. One cooperation could not manage the acreage required to finish the amount of beef needed to meet the consumer demand. It would also raise the price of land, farm equipment, and seed/fertilizer inputs. This would result in higher food costs.

(Report Comment)

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