Nov 13 2013

Farm bill politics

Published by at 9:23 am under Carlson

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

There’s an old joke most farmers have heard: How does a farmer double his income? Easy – he puts up another mail box!

The implication is that a farmer lives off of his government support payment, especially if weather destroys his crop and his insurance engages, or he participates in the Conservation Reserve Program where he is paid NOT to plant a crop.

The simple fact is every country subsidizes its agricultural sector. Meeting the increasing demands of a rapidly expanding world for basic sustenance is not easy as population continues to explode exponentially.

No large nation can let its food supply be totally dependent on imports.

Hence, policies are devised to keep certain products competitive in the mis-named “free market,” which is really a “semi-controlled market.”

Against this backdrop though there is fierce competition between wheat-
growing nations, such as the United States and Australia. Every penny makes a difference. Thus, most wheat farmers in Washington opposed Initiative 522, which would have required labeling of foods altered in anyway by genetic modification (gmo).

For them it was a cost issue as much as a truth in content matter. For the large domestic corporations who turn wheat into bread and other staples¸ it was worth spending millions to avoid more unnecessary cost.

Those voting against the measure surprisingly won, 54 to 46 per cent, on November 5th. Proponents implied public health could be endangered by allowing gmo elements into one’s pantry and played hard the card that one had a right to know. This was playing the fear card which many find ironic.

After all, it was genetic altered seeds that led to the “green revolution” and higher crops yields just in the nick of time to help meet the exploding world population. Where the next leap forward will come from no one knows for sure.

If one stops to think, most people in the United States have been genetically altered by advances in health care in some way whether it is artificial limbs, a pig valve in the heart or advanced forms of cancer treatment.

Scientists are investigating gene-splicing and other advances which will permit prospective parents to see a printout of likely diseases a child in the womb might face. The ethics of this form of selective breeding are very debatable, but consumers don’t seem to object to eating meat from selectively bred cattle.

The cost to produce food, and food stamps, though, is now caught in the gamesmanship going on in Washington, D.C. Republicans, especially the Tea Party subset, are upset over a doubling of the food stamp program in just three years. Even though we’re just emerging from a recession doubling does raise questions.

Today one in five American families are eligible for the food stamp program which is projected to cost over $800 billion over ten years. So “heartless Republicans” want to take a big whack out of the program but those pesky bleeding heart liberals, led by the big Lib in the White House, won’t stand for it. As always the truth lies in between.

The problem though is the R’s could get their way by continuing to stall the passage of any new farm bill. In doing so, they damage programs critical to farmers from the CRP to Title 1 commodity programs to crop insurance to basic research at schools like the University of Idaho.

When Congress fails to act, and lets a new farm bill expire, food stamps continue and so does crop insurance. By letting the bill expire the Tea Party types know that the “baseline” funding will collapse and there will be less money to work with the next time around. Eventually, if they stall long enough, there isn’t enough money to bother passing a bill so the pure free market no subsidy types can dismantle a bill by stalling and never having to have a recorded vote.

Of course this further inhibits our ability to compete on the world stage but to a purist against any subsidies, especially subsidies that might inadvertently go to some shiftless individual defrauding us all, the end justifies the means.

My wheat farmer friend, Brett Blankenship, due to be president of the National Wheat Growers next year, puts it well: “We should expect the social safety net to stretch when the economy is bad, but do a better job of monitoring participation and qualification for one to have the safety net. It should not be a hammock. To be fair, we should have the same approach with the other Farm Bill programs.”

Left unspoken, however, is the insanity of no Farm bill.

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