B12 Solipsism

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The Worst Farm Bill Ever

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Summer Squash
Summer Squash

The so-called Farm Bill is a five year plan for American agriculture policy, and as usual, rewards food corporations instead of consumers, and is adverse to encouraging sustainable food production.

For decades, groups like Fred Hoefner’s [National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition] have worked hard to create a set of programs designed to at least partially offset US farm policy’s tendency to bolster Big Ag. The programs, which the Obama Administration in 2009 grouped under the banner of Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, include initiatives designed to assist new farmers to get loans help communities roll out farmers markets, and reduce  costs for farms to transition to organic.

Taken as a whole, Hoefner says, the programs amount to about $175 million per year—less than 1 percent of the non-food stamps portion of the farm bill. “These programs make up an extremely modest portion of the farm bill’s budget, but they’ve had a large impact on communities nationwide,” Hoefner said. Hoefner pointed to a wide-ranging recent USDA study documenting positive impact of the programs.

Corn and Cornier
Corn and Cornier

and of course having lots of money to hire lobbyists always pays off for food corporations:

Big Ag continues to get support for monster corn and soy crops. Large commodity growers will take a nominal hit in the next farm bill. For years, farmers in a few chosen crops—corn, soy, cotton, etc.—have received $5 billion per year in so-called “direct payments” based on the acreage under production. In order to receive direct payments, farmers had to sign so called “conservation-compliance” agreements, which obligated them to create conservation plans for highly erodible land and agree not to drain wetlands for planting. The conservation-compliance agreements were far from perfect, Hoefner says, but they did help slow soil erosion in the Corn Belt for years.

In the next farm bill, direct payments will almost certainly be scrapped, Hoefner says, and replaced by a revenue-insurance scheme that is projected to cost $3.5 billion per year, saving taxpayers $1.5 billion per year. Sounds like a step forward, right? Wrong. First of all, in current negotiations, there is no conservation-compliance requirement for revenue insurance—meaning that farmers will have incentive to drain wetlands to grow crops, as well as expand crops onto erosion-prone land. Moreover, the new scheme will likely insure prices at high levels—meaning that relatively small price dips could cost taxpayers serious money, potentially wiping out that promised $1.5 billion in savings.

The switch to revenue insurance, Hoefner says, will “further reduce the risk of putting the pedal to the metal on commodity production, [with] no incentive whatsoever to diversify crops or leave any ground unplanted.” All of that, of course, is manna to the companies that supply inputs to industrial-scale farmers: seed and pesticide companies like Monsanto and Syngenta; and to the companies that buy corn and soy and transform them into a range of low-quality, profitable foods.

(click here to continue reading The Worst Farm Bill Ever? | Mother Jones.)

Some of my bounty from FreshPicks.com
Some of my bounty from FreshPicks.com

Lobbyists won’t like this suggestion:

The federal government could save about $1 billion a year by reducing the subsidies it pays to large farmers to cover much of the cost of their crop insurance, according to a report by Congressional auditors due to be released on Thursday.

The report raised the prospect of the government’s capping the amount that farmers receive at $40,000 a year, much as the government caps payments in other farm programs. Any move to limit the subsidy, however, is likely to be opposed by rural lawmakers, who say the program provides a safety net for agriculture.

The report, by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, was requested by Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, as part of his efforts to cut government spending.

Under the federal crop insurance program, farmers can buy insurance policies that cover poor yields, declines in prices or both. The insurance is obtained through private companies, but the federal government pays about 62 percent of the premiums, plus administrative expenses.

The crop insurance subsidy, according to the G.A.O. report, ballooned to $7.3 billion last year from $951 million in 2000, or about $1.2 billion adjusted for inflation. A Congressional Budget Office study cited in the report estimates that the premium subsidy will cost $39 billion from 2012 to 2016, about $7.8 billion a year.

Unlike other farm programs that have income or payment limits, crop insurance payments have no such restrictions, so farmers can get millions in subsidies regardless of their income. The G.A.O. said a cap last year would have affected about 4 percent of farmers in the program, who accounted for about a third of the premium subsidies and were mostly associated with large farms.

(click here to continue reading Cap on Farm Insurance Subsidy Could Save Billions, Report Says – NYTimes.com.)

City Farm
City Farm

and we ignore climate change at our peril:

One of the biggest challenges facing this planet isn’t simply feeding a growing population — perhaps as many as 10 billion by the year 2100. The challenge is feeding all those people as the climate changes in ways we can barely project. A new report called “Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change” (PDF) illustrates the complexity of the problem and makes clear that action must be taken soon to address it.

Commissioned by Cgiar — a research alliance financed by the United Nations and the World Bank — it recommends essential changes in the way we think about farming, food and equitable access to it, and the way these things affect climate change.

It is tempting to assume that expanding agricultural acreage and using new technology, like genetically engineered crops, will somehow save the day. The report says that efficiency and sustainability will also require fundamental changes in how we grow and consume food: reducing waste in production and distribution and finding ways to farm that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and other “negative environmental impacts of agriculture,” like soil loss and water pollution. The report also calls for better dietary habits in wealthy countries, which have a disproportionately and unsustainably high calorie intake, and targeted aid to populations whose farming is most at risk.

(click here to continue reading Sustainably Feeding a Changing World – NYTimes.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

April 12th, 2012 at 8:28 am

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