June 27 2012
Farm Bill Frenzy
Vicki E. Alger
This week the Senate passed the farm bill. What are taxpayers getting? Thankfully, not quite as much pork as some Senators would have liked. The number of pork-laden amendments was slimmed down from over 200 to 73. But few weeks ago the San Francisco Chronicle noted:
There's just one little problem. Somehow, whenever the two parties work together, they end up spending a lot of other people's money. The Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012, co-authored by Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., is a 10-year, $1 trillion package. … This is Washington's version of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
Here are just a few amendments that were originally introduced:
- A new USDA catfish inspection office (hey, after all, the FDA already has one, so why shouldn’t the USDA get one, too, for a mere $30 million?)
- Another new $10 million USDA office to get rid of feral pigs
- $91 million in popcorn subsidies over the next decade
- $25 million to study the health benefits of peas and beans
- $200 million for grants to small wineries, cheese makers, and other novelty producers
- $40 million in grants to encourage bird watching or hunting on private land.
- $15 million to improve the sheep industry
- $700 million in research initiatives, including projects to study Florida pine tree growth and moth pheromones
- $150 million to promote healthy eating programs in schools (not to be confused with the four other healthy eating in school programs)
Many of those were eliminated or pared down. But the fact remains that the farm bill spends 60 percent more than its predecessor and lacks meaningful free-market reform, according to Americans for Tax Reform. The Cato Institute also noted that:
…farm subsidies are welfare for the well-to-do. Farm businesses have thrived in recent years due to high crop prices. In 2011 real farm incomes were the third highest in the last 50 years. And Census data for 2010 show that average farm household income was $84,400, or 25 percent higher than the $67,530 average of all U.S. households. Farmers simply don't need tens of billions of dollars a year of taxpayer hand-outs. Despite what politicians say, most farm subsidies don't go to small family farms. The largest 10 percent of recipients receive more than two-thirds of all farm subsidies, according to the Environmental Working Group. Numerous large corporations and even some wealthy celebrities receive farm subsidies because they are the owners of farmland. … Real reform would entail abolishing farm subsidy programs and not replacing them with anything—except with the natural entrepreneurial skills of farm businesses. That's what happened in New Zealand in the 1980s, and it worked. New Zealand abolished virtually all of its farm subsidies, and after an adjustment period, farm productivity, profitability, and output from that country's agriculture industry rose substantially. New Zealand farmers cut costs, diversified their land use, sought nonfarm income, and developed new markets.