Farm Bill: More for Millionaire Farmers, Less for Poor Kids

With high crop prices, high land prices and guaranteed business income thanks to federal crop insurance, farm businesses are doing very well, thank you very much. The Bloomberg news service reports that during this Great Recession, farm earnings in Iowa and across the U.S. increased eight times faster than non-farm wages from 2008 to 2011. Actually, farm businesses have been doing nicely even longer than that. Farm household income has exceeded average household income every year since 1996.

Said the Bloomberg report:

Land that had long produced boxcars full of corn and soybeans is now yielding a new crop: locally grown millionaires. In doing so, it has brought to the nation’s rural areas the kind of income divide that had long been the province of urban America.

This is the story of a farm sale near Sheldon, Iowa, about 3 1/2 hours northwest of my office in Ames.  The farm of just 341 acres, very small by Iowa standards, sold in July heat for a record $14,300 an acre, grossing the owners $4.5 million.  A more typical size commercial farm of 1,000 acres, selling only at last year’s average price of $6,708 per acre, is going to gross the owner $6.7 million.

Meanwhile, the recession has taken a toll on the less fortunate. Food stamp demand in Iowa grew by 6 percent last year – twice the 2.9 percent nationwide increase, according to Bloomberg.

In spite of the white-hot farm economy that is making multi-millionaires of even small farm businesses, the House of Representatives will reportedly soon consider a farm bill that cuts food stamps by $16 billion while spending $36 billion more on a new generation of farm subsidies, most of which will flow to newly minted farm millionaires around the country.

Congress should say no to the terribly flawed farm bill written by the House Agriculture Committee. The committee’s bill short-changes struggling families, hungry kids and the environment in order to feed the farm subsidy lobby’s insatiable demand for more cash from taxpayers.

We need a farm bill that creates a fiscally responsible safety net that helps only those farmers who really need a hand, ensures that children don’t go to bed hungry, cleans up our environment, and produces healthy food to stem the epidemic of diet-related disease that threatens to bankrupt our health care system. The farm bill the House is about to consider takes us in the opposite direction.

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