Farm Bill Under Scrutiny

From the corporate corn farmer in Iowa to the small carrot farmer in New York, the 2007 Farm Bill, approved by the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee last Thursday, is the subject of heated debate.

The bill, expected to hit the Senate floor for discussion in early November, has drawn national and international criticism. While it is intended to focus on rural development, land conservation, renewable energy and nutrition programs, there is a growing concern that not enough is being done to redistribute – or phase out – government subsidization.

Historically, large-scale producers’ interests –particularly commodity producers of cotton, corn, sugar and rice – have dominated the U.S. Farm Bill. If the Bill is passed, legislation will not fund farmers whose average income is greater than $750,000 or who do not make at least two-thirds of their income by farming. However, critics of the bill say that, considering the average national annual income of farmers is $81,000, the subsidies won’t do much to help small-scale farms.

Last year, of the $16 billion paid to U.S. farmers 75% was distributed among 10% of the wealthiest producers. Among recipients was television personality David Letterman and Paul Allen, Microsoft founder, as sited by Senator Amy Klibuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota.

“We need to make sure this money goes to family farmers and not to urban millionaires,” Klibuchar stated in a recent interview with the Bemidji Pioneer.

In addition, critics argue that government subsidies do not allow for fair international trade competition. Such funding has resulted in the over-production of commodity crops, creating a market in which it is very difficult for other countries to compete with the dramatically lower American prices.

International entities, including the United Nations and World Trade Organization, have pressured the U.S. to examine how the subsidies affect international trade. This past summer, CARE international refused aid provided by the Farm Bill from the U.S. government because under the current Bill the government will only provide subsidized American products, which does not help with the development of third world economies.

While many government leaders from both parties agree that government subsidies need to decrease, the looming 2008 election means they are concerned with losing votes in the Southern and mid-western states. Lawmakers have sidestepped the issue by focusing on other Bill titles. The energy title, for example, offers the current administration the support needed to reduce the country’s gasoline use by 20% over ten years. The bill also includes a 25% increase in available conservation funds.

An alternative bill by Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, and Richard G. Lugar, an Indiana Republican, aims to replace outdated subsidy programs with an insurance program. In the FRESH Act 2007 (Farm, Ranch, Equity, Stewardship and Health act) Bill, farmers would only receive government funds when they loose money. The bill is expected to be vetoed, with both blue and red states under pressure from large farming corporations.

To see recipients of government subsidies, by state, go to:

The Bemidji Pioneer
New York Times

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