farm subsidies

Welfare for the Wealthy

In a New York Times op-ed, Mark Bittman writes about the hyprocrisy of congressional representatives who use the Farm Bill to cut SNAP yet also recieves thousands in USDA farm subsidies and direct payments. The current version of the House farm bill proposes $20 billion in cuts to SNAP. Bittman suggests an alternative solution.

"In other words, without hurting conservation or poor people or foreign aid or progressive and traditional farming, you could achieve targeted savings simply by letting direct payments go away and refusing to boost the crop insurance scam."

Read more here.

Senate Committee Passes $500 Billion Farm Bill

Tuesday the Senate Agriculture Committee passed a new five-year farm bill. The bill cuts subsidy payments and the food stamp program while expanding crop insurance. The Senate bill will reduce spending by $24 billion over 10 years. The bill passed 15-5 in committee with a full Senate vote expected later this month. USA Today reports:

The farm bill passed on Tuesday eliminates $17 billion in farm subsidies, $5 billion a year in direct payments given to farmers regardless of need and reduces $4 billion from conservation programs largely through consolidation. Spending for food stamp programs, used by 48 million Americans, also would be cut by $4 billion.

Read more here.


Grassroots on the Farm

DESPITE DECLINING populations, rural America still has plenty of opinions. They’re out there, plentiful and ripe as new potatoes—all it takes is some digging.

In the old days, agrarians held the pot and populists stirred. Rural populations made up the nation’s majority. But we’ve lost ground: Today’s grassroots minority are seen by corporations as one cook too many, spoiling the company stew.

Farm subsidies encompass five major crops: corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, and cotton. In the 1930s, populist farmers supported subsidies in FDR’s New Deal because they kept farmers on the farm. It was the easiest fix. But farm bills of old were aimed at average farmers: a husband and wife raising a family on the land. It was about average incomes, average acreages. Average farmers grew both crops and livestock. When grains were cheap, average farmers converted them to meat, milk, and eggs. If prices for those dropped, family farmers cut back.

Everything was about supply and demand—life and survival. Nothing was about making a killing on food.

All that began to change as corporate agriculture promoted grain exports, and companies such as Continental Grain began to raise their own livestock—a precursor to packer-owned livestock, contract production, and packer-controlled livestock markets.

In the 1970s, populists farmers came to be viewed as radicals when they protested anti-family-farm policy by driving tractors to Washington, D.C. They lost the public opinion battle as tractors rutted the National Mall when the government blocked them in with garbage trucks and buses. Some farmers camped there all winter. News coverage failed to note that, come spring, the farmers smoothed and reseeded the Mall before they left.

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"Lord, when did we see you hungry?": The 2012 Hunger Report


Bread for the World has many recommendations in the new report, but I’d  like to highlight just one for now: “Farm policies should lean more towards the production of healthy foods.”

Why this one? Most farm subsidies go to (wait for it) the largest, wealthiest producers (shocking, right?). Billions of dollars are spent subsidizing corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton and rice. Small and medium-size producers (many of whom grow vegetables — the foods that are supposed to make up half our dinner plate) receive little, if any, support from the current U.S. farm policy.

Securing affordable, healthy foods for our country’s poorest will in turn help us address other issues such as malnutrition and obesity, immigration, health care, and employment.