Sitting in the Tall Cotton

Well, this is a start:

A House committee voted to cut off crop subsidies to growers with more than $250,000 a year in adjusted gross income on Tuesday — a dramatic tightening of the farm safety net.

The Appropriations Committee also voted to make cotton growers effectively pay for the $147 million a year U.S. payment to Brazil, the victor in a trade dispute over American cotton supports.

“It’s a great sign Congress is ready to end these subsidies,” said Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican and sponsor of the cuts. Both were adopted by voice vote. Only one dissenting vote was heard on the vote for a lower eligibility cap.

But of background. A number of years ago, to a thunderous “duh”, the WHO found that our subsidies to farmers were distorting trade markets and hurting farmers in other countries. The Obama Administration decided the best way to prevent a trade war with Brazil was not to cut cotton subsidies in this country but to subsidize Brazilian farmers too. It seems that Congress has figured out that this is monumentally stupid.

The higher limit on farm subsidies is also good and Obama really can’t oppose it since he called for the exact same thing. To be honest, I’d prefer not to have such hard cutoffs. The big agri-businesses will probably find ways around them anyway. I’d prefer to massively shrink the Department of Agriculture, eliminate all of the subsidy/price-support programs and replace them with a single program that helps struggling farmers on a case-by-case basis in times of drought or market glut. Such a program would be much closer to an insurance program than an outright subsidy and eliminate a huge number of ongoing trade disputes.

First ethanol, now subsidies. The Republicans are showing a little bit of spine when it comes to farm interests. No a lot, but a vertebra or two. At this rate, they might be able to stand up to the senior lobby within a few decades.

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  1. Seattle Outcast

    Farm subsidies should have been phased out and eliminated, along with agricultural tariffs (sugar industry, you suck!), decades ago. All this this BS talk about “family farms” is just that BS – the “family farm” hasn’t been a viable business model since the 50’s, and the entire farming industry knows it.

    You can go take a drive across the corn belt and see it; hundreds of small towns falling apart and looking like a movie set from a cheap horror flick. Areas that used to have population densities of 40 people per square mile as families tried to make a go of a quarter section now have no buildings at all on them. Mechanized farming means two people can farm 20 times what a family of 8 used to do – but only if they have that amount of land to farm in order to pay off the machinery. Also, nearly everyone is a contract farmer these days; the huge agri-businesses spread the risk of crop failure across thousands of square miles and everybody buys into it. Sure, you won’t get as rich as you could with a few great years in a row, but you won’t lose your shirt if hail shows up the day before harvest either.

    Finally, the result of massively improved farming yields per acre means that much former cropland is now sitting idle and reverting to natural prairie – everybody sees this as a big plus. But if the greenfreaks get their way this will end – low energy farming means you have to farm more land to make up for the loss in yields.

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