Who’s Thankful for Farm Subsidies ?

John Kline (R-MN-02) proudly encourages citizens to visit his Stop The Pork website to learn about wasteful government spending.
Yet, there is another kind of Pork that Mr. Kline does not talk about … the Pork we eat and the whole Agricultural Subsidy programs … and the Kline family farm that participates in that subsidy process.

“Earmarks” that Mr. Kline opposes represents about $15 Billion (for investments in roads, education, community hospitals, military projects, etc.) while Federal program payments received by the agricultural sector are estimated at $12.2 billion.
In terms of Government Spending, these are both in the roughly 2% range of the Federal Budget, yet Mr. Kline focuses on those nasty “earmarks”.

Others see both as a concern.
Interestingly, the Bowles-Simpson Deficit Reduction Committee sweeping recommendations include these points related to agriculture: “Achieve mandatory savings from farm subsidies . . . Reduce farm subsidies by $3 billion per year by reducing direct payments and other subsidies, Conservation Security Program funding, and funding for the Market Access Program.”
The Domenici-Rivlin Task Force report also targets Ag subsidies.
Congress currently has pending legislation offered by Jim Himes (D-CT-04) HR 5779 REDUCE in the Agriculture Programs Act of 2010 which will “reduce spending, cut inefficient programs and eliminate or reduce costly industry subsidies across a range of programs” as it reduces commodity payments to wealthy farmers and cuts the federal reimbursement rate to private crop insurers.

The discussion is not only in Washington, but a recent editorial in the Pioneer-Press St. Paul economist and writer Edward Lotterman challenges that Farm subsidies shouldn’t survive ‘tea party’ scrutiny. Mr. Lotterman identifies newly elected Missouri Congresswoman Vicki Hartzler (R-MO-04) who defended continued farm subsidies :

That is a bit harsh, but given that Hartzler and her husband have received some $770,000 in federal farm payments over the past 15 years and that she courted “tea party” support and ran on a program of smaller government and lower taxes, considerable skepticism is warranted.
Farm subsidies pose a knotty and immediate dilemma for Republicans, especially those aligned with the tea party. If you campaign on a platform of lower taxes, smaller government, no budget deficits and ending government redistribution of income to small interest groups, how on Earth can you vote for continued spending on federal commodity programs?
For Minnesota, direct payments in 2009 came to $852 million, of which $114 million was for CRP acres. Overall, our state came fifth in national rankings. Neighboring states also placed high, with Iowa second, North Dakota sixth, South Dakota ninth and Wisconsin 11th.
Republicans are riding the crest of an electoral triumph, but they have a great deal at stake. If they have the courage to make a symbolic move like zeroing out ag subsidies for 2011, they will send a message that they are serious about cutting wasteful spending and the overall size of government. But if farm payments get through unscathed, tea party stalwarts rightfully will read it as a bad omen.

Farm subsidies have been around for a long time and although some Presidents have suggested cutting them, in the end Congress keeps them. In 1996, Congress finally enacted some pro-market agriculture reforms under the “Freedom to Farm” law. When the 1996 law was passed, subsidies were expected to cost $47 billion in total from 1996 to 2002, but ended up costing $121 billion. President Bush signed legislation in May 2002 … as noted in PorkMag

“President Bush signed a six-year law boosting U.S. crop and dairy subsidies by 67 percent on Monday over the protests of U.S. trade partners and possibly swaying this fall’s congressional elections. The new law adds an estimated $6.4 billion a year to crop and dairy spending and marks a further retreat from free-market reforms begun in 1985.”

Ah, that’s the hook … do you support “farmers” or “financial responsibility” ?
Which leads to the question : Who gets these subsidies ?
The Government divides the recipients into three groups :
— Rural residence farms are small farms whose operators are either retired or reported a major occupation other than farming. Rural residence farms received 19 cents of the government payment dollar—12 cents from conservation programs, 4 cents from commodity programs, and 3 cents from other programs.
— Intermediate family farms are small family farms whose operators reported farming as their major occupation. Intermediate farms received 19 cents of the government payment dollar—9 cents from commodity programs, 6 cents from conservation programs, and 4 cents from other programs.
— Commercial family farms are large-scale farms with gross annual sales of $250,000 or more. Commercial farms received 62 cents of the government payment dollar—43 cents from commodity programs, 10 cents from other programs, and 9 cents from conservation programs.

While there may be some rational for providing a safety net for the family farm, obviously, it should be questioned why monies would be going to part-time farmers and corporate farms.
Actually, two-thirds of American farmers don’t even receive subsidies. So where does all that tax money go? Mainly to large agribusinesses and the richest family farmers. Take, for instance, Riceland Foods in Stuttgart, Arkansas, the largest single recipient of farm welfare. In 2003 it received $68.9 million in subsidies for producing rice, soybeans, wheat, and corn–more than all the farmers in Rhode Island, Hawaii, Alaska, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, and New Jersey combined.
The agricultural welfare rolls also include many Fortune 500 companies, such as Archer Daniels Midland and International Paper, plus corporations most people don’t associate with farming, such as Chevron, Caterpillar, and Electronic Data Systems.

The latest update to the farm bill included some changes aimed at the conservation program :
As of April 2008, total enrollment was 34.7 million acres. Authorizes program through fiscal year (FY) 2012. Caps program area at 32 million acres starting on Oct 1, 2009.
Adds local preference criterion. To maximum extent practicable, program should accept offer from owner or operator who is resident of county (or contiguous county) where land is located, provided land provides at “least equivalent conservation benefits to land under competing offers.”

This at least seems to be a step to reduce the subsidy, and also aim it at the farm owners that are actually on the land.

So, do you think that someone whose principle occupation is as a Member of the House of Representatives and maintains his Minnesota residence in Lakeville should be getting a conservation subsidy ?
Mr. Kline lists the value of the 534 acre Sheldon Family Farm located in Houston Minnesota at between $100-250,000 on his most recently filed personal Financial Disclosure form.

Mr. Kline could show an example for other members of Congress and not accept the subsidy … but his family has received subsidies during his entire Congressional career. For the records, Michelle Bachmann (R-MN-06) has received $251,973 in federal subsidies.

The dollar amount should be immaterial … its where are Mr. Kline’s priorities ? Everyday people or large agribusinesses and the retired part-time family farmers ?

Mr. Kline has stated We simply don’t have the money to keep extending unemployment benefits indefinitely. We just don’t have the money.”

So according to Mr. Kline, NO MONEY for the unemployed, but “Keep my check coming”.

As we all gather around our Thanksgiving table, let’s remember those that may not be enjoying the same meal that we enjoy … and those that are enjoying the “gravy”.

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