Theft in progress: Big Ag raids the treasury — with help from Congress
If the straight-up taxpayer swindle taking place in the supercommittee isn’t making you angry, you’re probably not paying attention. I’m talking about the attempt by agribusiness and a group of willing farm-state representatives to put billions of taxpayer dollars into the pockets of industrial farmers during the ongoing super committee Farm Bill negotiations.
According to The Hill, the moment of truth is upon us: The supercommittee is indeed poised to rewrite the Farm Bill behind closed doors and with no input from reform-minded congresspeople, let alone the public. Many of us have known this was going on, but the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found some new developments that are nothing short of shocking.
EWG reports on the new “shallow loss” subsidy which would protect commodity growers from small price drops via a “taxpayer-paid guarantee of getting no less than 90%[!!] of their income.” This new subsidy is now considered a political hot potato thanks to coverage from sources like like EWG and Grist. As a consequence, only corn, soy, and wheat farmers — those whose prices are now sky high — will be eligible. So cotton and rice farmers want a consolation prize. They will get that and much more. The EWG writes:
… The rice growers, who don’t like having to pony up some of their own money for crop insurance and don’t have to worry as much about yield losses, would instead get higher price guarantees from the government. And cotton growers would get higher target prices and stronger revenue insurance.
Just for good measure, the current annual limits on how much any one farm operation can receive in subsidies would be eliminated. You read it right: unlimited subsidies for the largest mega farms despite year after year of record income [Emphasis mine].
America, land of the thieves and home to the greedy.
Not that Congress is completely neglecting those in need: It’s throwing a French-fry and pizza party for low-income school kids across America by almost totally undoing the USDA’s long-overdue reform for school lunch nutrition guidelines. Because pizza and fried potatoes are now the cornerstone of a healthy diet — didn’t you know?
But back to the Farm Bill: Let’s put the scale of the misappropriation of taxpayer dollars in context for a moment. According to this story in the Wall Street Journal, income on big industrial farms is up 31 percent in 2011 to $103.6 billion; these are inflation-adjusted levels not seen since the OPEC Oil Embargo of 1973.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune reports that farmland prices are through the roof — higher than they’ve ever been, in fact:
U.S. farmland prices in the third quarter surged to the highest levels in more than three decades amid an accelerating agricultural boom that has so far defied fears of a bubble about to burst.
Prices hit record highs in the U.S. Plains, where wheat and cattle dominate production, and jumped 25 percent in the Midwest Corn Belt, where bumper grain crops and recovering livestock markets put more money in farmers’ wallets and enticed investors to bid up for the fertile ground, according to two Federal Reserve bank surveys issued on Tuesday.
Things are so good for industrial farmers these days that, as that WSJ piece found, they’re buying back outlying suburban and exurban land that had been snapped up by developers for housing and are putting it back into production.
In short, these are the corn soy cotton salad days for Big Ag. And while they’re reveling in their profits, they’ve decided to top it off by raiding the national treasury. And it’s a very small group of senators and representatives who are handing over the combination to the government bank vault. In other words, even when we have the chance to “throw the bums out” in November 2012, most of us will be out of luck — because our lawmakers won’t even have been involved.
More stories in this series:
The upcoming farm bill won’t be the watershed moment we’ve been waiting for. But it still provides an opportunity for food reformers to become sophisticated policy players.
Brace yourselves, food advocates: The congressional supercommittee charged with reducing the national debt considers making cuts to the nation’s most important food and farming legislation.
Photo: Jeff Cushner Update (Nov. 4, 2011): According to this SFGate article, the new bill is expected to be submitted to the congressional supercommittee as early as today (Friday). Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wisc.) (the same Kind who put forth the …
Photo: Matthew BurpeeThe most exciting aspect of the new USDA report on the local food and farm economy [PDF] isn’t the sizable $4.8 billion in annual sales of local food it says occurred in 2008. It’s the fact that, as …
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