Thursday, July 16, 2020

Government payments to farmers are at historic highs, but some warn it's unsustainable

Federal farm aid over past decade. (Politico chart: click the
image to enlarge it.)
Direct government payments to farmers are at historic highs under the Trump administration as the president and the Department of Agriculture try to help farmers struggling with the trade war, record wet weather and the pandemic.

"But as agriculture grows more reliant on unprecedented taxpayer support, farm policy experts and watchdog groups warn the subsidies are growing too big and too fast, with no strings attached and little oversight from Congress — and that Washington could have a difficult time shutting off the spigot," Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico. "The massive payments have been a political boon to Trump in farm country — he tweeted in January that he hoped the money would be 'the thing they will most remember' — but risk creating a culture of dependency, as farmers and ranchers work the bonus subsidies into their financial plans when making large, up-front investments in seed, feed and farm machinery."

The amount of aid, the speed with which the government is handing it out, and the lack of oversight should concern taxpayers, says Neil Hamilton, emeritus professor and former director of Drake University’s Agricultural Law Center. And, Hamilton says, the handouts have insulated the administration from political fallout stemming from their policy decisions. "The administration picked these trade fights promising agriculture that this would lead to some better world at some point," Hamilton told McCrimmon. "Rather than suffering any consequence for the ill-conceived strategy, they just said, 'Hey, let’s tap the bank. We’ll buy our way out of this.'"

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