Any Bets on Whether Congress Cuts Farm Subsidies?

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

The current enthusiasm in Congress for slashing the Federal budget looks to the Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA) like an opportunity to inject some common sense into the way government spends money on agriculture. The organization, based in tiny Lyons, Nebraska (population 963) has some big ideas about where cuts in the agriculture budget might produce some real improvements in America’s farming future.

Writing in the Berthoud, Colorado, “Recorder,” Brian Depew, the Center’s assistant executive director, sees forthcoming work on the fiscal 2012 budget and the 2012 Farm Bill as the time to reduce payments to the nation’s largest farms – subsidies, he says, that the big farms use to

drive their smaller neighbors out of business. Congress should place a hard limit of $40,000 on direct payments to the largest farms in tough years, and ratchet down that limit to $13,000 in the best years.

Additionally, Depew calls for a requirement that subsidies be paid only to those actively engaged in farming.

The Center supports a one-third across-the-board cut in direct payments to farmers, because these payments most often wind up raising the prices of land and land rent, making things tougher for small farmers and discouraging others from becoming farmers.

Finally, Depew suggests eliminating half the payments made to those who rent from landlords with an annual income of more than $500,000. He explains,

Though paid to tenants, the money passes through their pockets to landowners in the form of higher cash rent. High-income landowners are already ineligible for federal farm payments on crop share leases. They should not be able to get around that by cash renting.

Depew says these reforms would reduce the budget deficit but still allow funding for continued conservation efforts, rural small business development, and initiatives to encourage a next generation of family farmers and ranchers, all goals that the Center supports.

Some may find it surprising that a rural organization should promote cuts to rural business, but the fact is that the subsidies CFRA wants decreased have almost no beneficial effect on the people who live and work on family farms. Most of that money goes to people who own corporate farms and probably can’t stand the smell of fresh manure. And some of it goes to pay people who don’t live on farms not to grow crops at all on the farmland they own. It will be interesting to learn why legislators don’t want to cut farm subsidies along the lines of CFRA’s suggestions, but you can be pretty sure they won’t.

Maybe it’s time we stopped speaking of corporate campaign contributions and, instead, call them what they are. Bribes.

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