Thursday, June 03, 2010

Strange bedfellows fight for farm subsidy reform

Last month we reported that the Environmental Working Group had updated its annual database of farm subsidy payments. That announcement paired strange bedfellows in the call for subsidy reform in the next Farm Bill. The news conference to announce the updated database included comments from representatives with EWG, the Center for Rural Affairs and, "somewhat oddly, the libertarian Cato Institute," David Bennett of Delta Farm Press reports. "This is a really good area for EWG and the Cato Institute, which may not seem like natural partners, to come together," said Sallie James, policy analyst for the libertarian institute. "Those of us in favor of limited government see this as a great area for reform."

While James classified EWG's database as a tool that helps with Cato's efforts, EWG representatives called for subsidy money to be shifted to conservation efforts, not cut entirely. James even called for the Tea Party movement to become active in the fight for farm subsidy reform, saying the movement "sweeping the nation talks about ‘limited government’ and ‘get the government out of my business.’ I would really hope that so-called conservatives and Republican leaders that talk about the need for government to get out of people’s lives would agree that (reaches) to farm programs, as well as other areas."

The Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs, a generally liberal group, cited a failure to revitalize family farming or rural communities as reason for farm-subsidy reform, Bennett writes. Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of CRA, said one reason for that ineffectiveness is "Essentially, we have a farm program that says 'The bigger you get without limit, the more money you get from the federal government.'"

Craig Cox, head of agricultural programs for EWG, also took aim at crop insurance as an area in need of reform. Crop Insurance "has many of the same flaws as countercyclical programs," he said. "How much risk are taxpayers picking up? What are the implications of that? What sort of incentives does that create? Is this really a level playing field or is the way these insurance programs are structured inordinately subsidizing a handful of crops? Clearly they do — four major commodity crops account for 80 percent of the crop insurance subsidies." (Read more)

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