Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ah, America's Struggling Small Farmers

From a story in today's Washington Post entitled "Farm Program Pays $1.3 Billion to People Who Don't Farm":

Even though Donald R. Matthews put his sprawling new residence in the heart of rice country, he is no farmer. He is a 67-year-old asphalt contractor who wanted to build a dream house for his wife of 40 years.

Yet under a federal agriculture program approved by Congress, his 18-acre suburban lot receives about $1,300 in annual "direct payments," because years ago the land was used to grow rice.

Matthews is not alone. Nationwide, the federal government has paid at least $1.3 billion in subsidies for rice and other crops since 2000 to individuals who do no farming at all, according to an analysis of government records by The Washington Post.

The story also discusses the U.S. agricultural subsidy system more generally:

What began in the 1930s as a limited safety net for working farmers has swollen into a far-flung infrastructure of entitlements that has cost $172 billion over the past decade. In 2005 alone, when pretax farm profits were at a near-record $72 billion, the federal government handed out more than $25 billion in aid, almost 50 percent more than the amount it pays to families receiving welfare.

The Post's nine-month investigation found farm subsidy programs that have become so all-encompassing and generous that they have taken much of the risk out of farming for the increasingly wealthy individuals who dominate it.

The farm payments have also altered the landscape and culture of the Farm Belt, pushing up land prices and favoring large, wealthy operators.

The piece is kind of long, but well worth a read.



Just to clarify, the headline above wasn't meant to mock struggling small farmers (although if you're a struggling farmer in today's farm price environment you might want to rethink your choice of occupation). It was meant to mock the federal subsidy system that backers say is geared toward helping small farmers but instead primarily benefits wealthy individuals, large agribusinesses, and farm-state congressmen and senators.

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