Ditch the Farm Bill

Yesterday, Senators rejected the Fresh Act, which sought to reform the mad waste embodied in the Farm Bill currently up for consideration. They said the sensible approach, proposed by that wild-eyed radical Dick Lugar, "just moves too far, too fast." Those are the words of Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

OK, so you don’t like the alternative. So just don’t pass a farm bill, say I. If any true needs go begging as a result, we’ll address them as they come. In the meantime, we’ll say goodbye to such scenarios as the one that the WSJ mocked Tuesday in "Green Acres" terms:

    The Environmental Working Group has a map of New York City making the rounds on the Internet that shows 562 dots, each representing a Manhattan resident who gets a USDA farm payment. Who knew that growing cotton, corn and soybeans was such a thriving industry near Central Park? We don’t know the incomes of these people, but it’s a fair guess they’re not homeless.
    What we have here is a real-life version of the 1960s TV show "Green Acres," but in reverse. In the fictional series, Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor play a fancy couple who flee Manhattan to live down on the farm among the pigs and goats, while she pines for the glitter of Times Square. In the 2007 version, they flee the farm for Manhattan and get a subsidy check at their Park Avenue penthouse. What a deal.

Hooterville was an absurd nightmare for Oliver Wendell Douglas, who learned episode after episode that everyone saw madness as perfectly normal. So it is with Washington and farm bills.

6 thoughts on “Ditch the Farm Bill

  1. weldon VII

    Do you eat?
    Do you wear clothes?
    If so — New York’s inappropriate beneficiaries notwithstanding — there should be a farm bill.
    Besides, you proved in your previous farm-bill machinations that you know absolutely nothing about farming in your home state, which The State website says is South Carolina.
    Need I post the appropriate farm statistics yet again?

  2. Brad Warthen

    You might have to post ’em again, Weldon. I missed the part where I know “absolutely nothing” about farming around these parts.
    While you’re at it, please include the reasons why we need all the subsidies in this bill.
    This is an interesting situation, though — here I am trying to cut billions in spending, and you’re telling me I just don’t understand. Well, I do, which is why I’m not a libertarian.
    I know that, once upon a time, there were more or less good reasons for each and everything in the monster that we call a farm bill every five years. I also know that a lot of them don’t hold up anymore.
    I think the thing needs to be picked apart so we can find those things in it that still have value, and ditch the rest. Or, as I suggested above, just ditch the whole thing, and then add back the worthwhile parts.
    Now, people try to get nonfarmers to back off with that “do you eat?” stuff.
    As I say, I’m not a farmer, but I started my career covering the parity protests of 1978 (remember the tractorcades?), so the woes of farmers are not a completely unfamiliar subject to me.

  3. mark glfr

    I’d strongly recommend the book Omnivore’s Dilemma. It outlines very well why farm subsidies actually hurt the farmer, and really just provide huge subsidies to ADM, Coca Cola, McDonalds, etc. It’s also an eye-opening profile on the food industry– you won’t think of your processed food in the same way ever again.
    Lugar was right on.

  4. weldon VII

    Brad, it’s just that a lot of farmers in South Carolina grow cotton, corn, soybeans and wheat — four of the five principal subsidy crops.
    Farmers grew roughly 300,000 acres of each of those crops last year in South Carolina.
    The acreage planted in peaches and apples, on the other hand — grown by the kind of farmers you wrote the Fresh Bill would help — was a small fraction of that.
    I wouldn’t argue that the present farm bill is the end all and be all of farm bills, and I’d go so far as to say I’d love to see the bill waste as little money on Big Apple residents as possible, but incremental changes over a period of years would be the fairest means possible to farmers around here.
    Farming, after all, is a risky business, and lots of jobs in South Carolina depend on it. It’s nice to have legislation that keeps farmers afloat when times are bad and offers market support even when they aren’t.

  5. Lee Muller

    Before you can know what sorts of other farm policies this nation needs, you need to eliminate the very major costs which skew everything – income tax, property tax, and estate taxes.
    Due to weather, even the best farmers in the best climates will lose money 3 out of 10 years. Our income taxes, being so geared to short-term large industrial businesses and to W-2 wage workers, is a major force in putting farmers even further in the red. Farmers have to take a long view that spans 2 to 50 years of crop cycles.
    Once the tax system is made more simple and uniform, there will be far less need for subsidies to compensate for bad tax policy.

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