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Where the Trough Is Overflowing
New York Times’ editorial board member Robert Semple penned a blistering take on the Senate farm bill for the paper’s Sunday Outlook section. Some excerpts:
Every five years or so, Congress promises a new, improved farm bill that will end unnecessary subsidies to big farmers, enhance the environment and actually do something to help small farmers and small towns. But what it usually does is find ways of disguising the old inequities, sending taxpayers dollars to wealthy farmers, accelerating the expansion of industrial farming, inflating land prices and further depopulating rural America.
The new five-year farm bill that could hit the Senate floor as early as this week promises more of the same — excessively generous handouts, combined with a serious erosion of environmental protections.
One positive change is the elimination of an indefensible program of “direct subsidies” that showered $5 billion a year on farmers in good times and bad. But big farmers won’t be worse off. The Senate Agriculture Committee redirected much of the savings into a different subsidy — crop insurance, which pays farmers if they have a loss in revenue or crop yield.
Beyond enshrining that status quo, the bill seriously threatens the environment. Because the committee insisted on generous insurance subsidies, it did not meet the reductions required by the 2011 Budget Control Act even after cutting the direct payments. So it trimmed $6 billion over 10 years from environmental programs, chiefly the Conservation Reserve Program, which rewards farmers for converting erodible farmland to grass and other vegetation. However flawed, the old subsidy programs required farmers to act as responsible stewards of the land — promising, among other things, not to drain wetlands. The crop insurance subsidies impose no such obligations.
The Food and Agriculture Policy Institute released a report (PDF) examining key outcomes from the Senate Agriculture Committee’s 2012 farm bill. FAPRI found that the Senate cuts to the number of acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program would modestly depress crop prices. How does this square with the goals of revenue guarantee proposals proposed by the Senate Agriculture Committee?
- Representatives Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.) introduced legislation that “would reduce crop insurance assistance for the first four years for crops grown on native sod and certain grasslands converted to cropland.”
- Madison, Wisconsin Capitol Times columnist Bill Berry writes of threats to drinking water in the state, and mentions that “The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says 172 lakes and streams are formally listed as impaired due to phosphorous pollution or sediment.”
- The Bemidji Pioneer’s Don Davis reports, “Alexandria Mayor Dan Ness said, for example, some Twin Cities communities will pay $1 billion to clean up water soiled by farm soil and chemicals it contains.”
- Chuck Hassebrook, executive director for the Center for Rural Affairs says of rules that shield the identities of farms receiving millions each in crop insurance subsidies "American taxpayers have a right to know. I think it's bad public policy to deny that information. Providing that information allows us to make more informed judgments."
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