Thursday, October 4

I have a complicated relationship with Farm Subsidies. I don't believe in uncritical subsidies. A lot of times they hide bad things. They make commodities seem falsely cheap. However, I was also the beneficiary of them growing up, and I do want to support family farms.

There's a big farm bill in Congress right now. It looks to me like this bill is a bad idea for a lot of reasons. Here's one:

The House rejected 238-187 an amendment that would have imposed strict $150,000-per-person limit on crop subsidies, which would have saved $1.3 billion over 10 years. ``A limit of $150,000 is not only reasonable, it's plain generous,'' said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn (AP via Yahoo).

I'm pro-farmers, but this looks like pro-rich farmers to me. We shouldn't be subsidizing them with tax dollars.

Here's a sample of total payments from 1996-2000 from my home county (Johnson) back in Iowa:

Fobian Brothers, Iowa City $454,694
Timber View Farms Ltd., Solon $398,414
James E. Sladek, Iowa City $377,725
Eldon R. Prybil, Iowa City $360,069
Sam J. Stahle, Solon $360,039
Marlin G. Brenneman, Iowa City $339,859
Dean Oakes, Iowa City $316,241
Keith Forbes, Iowa City $315,578
Berry Farms Ltd., Iowa City $307,086
GF Miller Farms Ltd., Solon $301,718


That's too much money - 75-100k$/yr.

The House Committee statement
USDA Statement by the Secretary of Agriculture

An NPR segment yesterday got me thinking about this.

One big farmer interviewed on the program says at their rate of return of less than 4% that they have reached 'almost third world situations.' He calls the situation 'a joke'. But his perspective is a joke. He farms 4500 acres and received 3.5 mil$ b/t 1996 and 2000.

His farm is one of 175,000 farms that make over 250,000$ in revenue each year. They account for 8% of the farms in America. They account for 70% of the total value of American agriculture. They receive 50% of government payments. Their average household income is 139,000$, 41,000 of which came from government payments.

Some people say this money ends up being used by these big farmers to buy out the small farmers subsidies are supposed to be supporting.

Some people say that we need to support American agriculture to stave off reliance on foreign markets like we have to do with oil. Some say if we don't support subsidies like this we'll have to pay higher prices at the store.

First of all, that's part of the idea. We subsidize gas so people pay less at the pump. It seems cheap, though it's made so with tax dollars, so people feel free to spend. If people had that tax money back in their wallet, and paid the real price at the pump, they might use less.

Same thing with food. We might make different choices. That would be a good thing. The market doesn't work right with subsidies.

We are overproducing and paying big farmers for it. I support small subsidies for small farmers and the right amount of production. We can do better here.

I don't believe this, but I decided to write my Representative and Senator about this. You can find yours by clicking on the links in the preceding sentence.
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