Monday, September 05, 2011

Agriculture-policy writer gives a clear, succinct picture of debate over changes in crop subsidies

The prospect that farm programs will be significantly changed as part of the deficit-reduction process has been reported here several times, but as usual, Philip Brasher, left, of Gannett Co.'s Washington bureau (which hired him after the Des Moines Register, a Gannett newspaper, laid him off and closed its bureau) best puts the jam on the bottom shelf where the little folks can get to it:

"Farmers and landowners have long counted on getting a government check every year regardless of how profitable they might be or whether they even planted a crop. But those checks may soon be a lot smaller -- or disappear altogether. A congressional super committee that is charged with writing a plan this fall for slashing the federal budget deficit is widely expected to target those payments," known as "direct payments."

Brasher continues, "Farm lobbyists and their allies in Congress are scrambling to come up with a new and cheaper way to subsidize growers, one that would provide payments when crops are poor or market prices collapse. The threat to the payments is so dire that even the cotton industry, which has long resisted cutting them, is now looking at alternatives. The ideas being tossed about include taking money that now goes to the annual payments and using it to sweeten the federal crop insurance program."

There, in the story's initial paragraphs, are the main cards in play. Deeper down is an underlying reason for change, which Brasher dregded up from a hearing last year: "The goal of income parity of farm people versus urban people has been achieved," Purdue University agricultural economist Otto Doering said at a hearing on farm policy. "Our chief concern now should be volatility." There are 19 more paragraphs, all worth reading if you care about agriculture or have readers, viewers and listeners who do. Go here.

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