Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Tax Money To Continue To Prop Up Agriculture

Part Two of a Series

(June 18, Tripe, IA) Defying our lame duck president and his repeated promise to use his veto pen, the Senate today passed the huge, bloated, pork-laden Farm Bill following a similar vote in the House on Wednesday. The vote counts in both chambers of Congress virtually assures that the president’s veto would be easily over ridden. This is yet another defeat for a useless, irrelevant president and a great victory for corporate agribusiness and farmers. The vast majority of the $307 billion Farm Bill is doled out to farmers in what are known “direct payments”. These are, as described in the New York Times as payments “... disbursed based on land acreage and regardless of current market conditions or even whether the land is still actively farmed”. The president had been seeking to limit such payments and other elements of the Farm Subsidy Program.

While many argue strenuously that all the myriad subsidy programs are required to allow American agriculture to remain competitive in tight global, interconnected markets, those who have long studied the farm Bill say it amounts to nothing more than “Absolute welfare to grain farmers, not all farmers, primarily midwest grain farmers. It is shameful what this sector of American agriculture has become”, noted Dr. Claude Zwingel, an agricultural economist at Bismarck Polytechnical University.

Mr. Bush sought to limit the eligibility for most subsidies to farmers earning under $200,000 per household. The bill, as passed, allows farmers with farm income of up to $750,000 a year to collect subsidies. These same farmers may also have up to $500,000 in “non-farm” income. “Framers earning that kind of money should in no way, shape or form be given federal welfare. It is an outrage. The real farmers who would benefit from some reasonable form of subsidy are actually left out. They are either too small or too ignorant to work the system”, commented Professor Wilson J. Gingerich, who chair the Agricultural College at Central Kansas University.

At a time Americans are paying increasingly higher costs for groceries, the agricultural community, corn and soybean producers in particular, are experiencing boom times. Record high prices for grain on the Chicago Board of Trade and other global commodity markets have already proven to be a windfall for some farmers. While the bill contains increases for some nutrition and conservation programs, the bulk of the money will go to directly to farmers in the “corn belt”; places like Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota. These are the very same farmers who have boarded the lucrative renewable energy bandwagon hoping to cash in on the political and commercial support for fuels made from corn and beans.

According to Dr. Stewart Earl Droop, Director of Rural Affairs at Arkansas A&M, farmers growing rice, cotton, produce, and vegetables are basically “excluded from obtaining any benefit from the so called Farm Bill. What they ought to call it is the Corn and Bean Farmers Federal Money Give Away, because, truth be told, that is precisely what it is”.

According to several highly placed sources within the secretive, influential and all powerful Washington, DC K Street lobbyist community, special interest and ag industry groups spend “huge amounts of money” to get the legislation they want. “Folks like the Iowa Soybean Council, The Corn Growers Association, the Agribusiness Association of Iowa and other similar groups throughout the midwest come here and expect to get what they want. These farm issues are political hot buttons in places like Minnesota and Iowa and you can bet, any member of Congress from a farming state supports these issues and is often paid handsomely to do so.”

The Environmental Working Group ( a Washington DC based public interest group that began publishing the names and amounts paid to farm subsidy recipients several years ago, is also engaged in a broad spectrum of scientific research and legal activity related to exposing some of the hidden and more ominous truths pertaining to a all aspects of production agriculture. EWG has consistently revealed the inequities of farm direct pay subsidies, crop insurance, and the host of rebates, pay outs and other forms of largess provided by the multinational pharmaceutical, chemical, and agriculture related industries. They have noted the disturbing trends in agriculture and how such trends have been driven by federal and corporate money. “Basically, what most Americans think of as “The Family Farm’ is inaccurate. Yes, a farm may be owned by a family but they are now huge operations that can be run by a very small amount of people. Seed genetics, chemistry and technology have transformed row crop agriculture into an industry like no other”, commented an EWG field researcher assigned to Iowa. He spoke anonymously because of the many previous death threats he’s received.

With billions of federal dollars pledged to Iowa farmers today by president Bush as he plans to tour the flood zone tomorrow, the real victims of the flooding are the average Iowans, the non farming citizen or small time operator who has already had to contend with record high gas prices and food costs. Max Slaughter, a manure handling equipment assembler from Frytown said, “This is awful, just awful. I have never had it so hard. I work, my wife works and my 5 oldest children work. I can’t hardly afforded to pay $100 a week to commute to my job. Groceries are as high as ever. Something has got to give. I don’t even have health insurance and my youngest child has a wicked case of prickly heat, whooping cough, and fallen arches. I don’t know what to do.”

Farley Marsden reporting from Tripe, Iowa for TBC

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