In the farm bill debate, the Bush administration has joined Environmental Defense Fund, The Environmental Working Group, and other Big Green groups in taking a “reform” position: subsidies are bad, so let’s cut them.
I’ve been arguing that this position amounts to no reform at all, because it doesn’t address the underlying problem of U.S. farming: the relentless pressure on our farmland from chemical-intensive agriculture — an arrangement that in the end benefits agrochemical makers much more than farmers, consumers, or the environment.
Indeed, while Bush is cheering the hearts of Big Green groups with his anti-subsidy positions, his mindless promotion of huge biofuel mandates and subsidies is ramping up industrial agriculture to levels never seen before.
On Wednesday, the administration revealed its level of seriousness about farm bill reform. The administration and Congress are wrangling over the income cap beyond which people lose eligibility for farm subsidies. Both sides agree on a cap of $500,000 for individuals; Congress wants to apply it only to to non-farmer landlords, while the administration wants to apply to farmers as well.
USDA secretary Ed Schafer tried to assure his congressional sparring partners that the distinction didn’t really matter:
The reality is, with a $500,000 hard cap, if there is a farm in America that can’t meet a $500,000 hard cap, they need a new accountant.
So it’s all accounting tricks, is it? The reality is, with these guys running farm policy, it’s no wonder that farmers are squeezing their land for the highest yields possible by any means necessary, and even so, global food prices are rising beyond the reach of billions of people.
(Hat tip to the indispensable Ferd Hoefner of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Note: Ferd’s press release supplied the quote from Schafer, not the analysis above, which represents my views alone.)
Update: I just go word from Aimee Witteman of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition that Congress has extended debate on the farm bill for another week. Aimee blogged here last week that the current farm bill is better than no farm bill at all. If the president and Congress can’t agree on farm bill version soon, the 2002 bill will likely be extended.