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Big and bloated farm programs

“The farm bill and trade policies are geared around the idea that farmers should get big or get out and depend on export markets to make their ends meet,” Karen Hansen-Kuhn, Director of Trade and Global Governance, Progressive Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Stabilizing farms and food supply

The first Farm Bill emerged during the Great Depression as an effort to provide fair prices for both consumers and farmers, access to quality food, and protection for natural resources. Congress added the food stamp program into the Farm Bill in the 1960s, which increased support for continuing the law among would-be critics of farm subsidies.

Farm programs redirected to fill corporate coffers

Fast forward a few decades during which the subsidies morphed into forms that defy comprehension and fill the bank accounts of landowners who are not farmers, of farms that don’t need them, and underwrite the production of commodities rather than food. The Farm Bill’s farm programs are now entirely dominated by six crops: corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton, rice, and peanuts, which receive more than 90 percent of its subsidies.

Another farm bill another subsidy

In recent years, crop insurance has also grown into a lucrative subsidy for corporate “farmers.” .Insurance companies receive direct subsidies for administration, plus inflated profits from the high premiums they charge. .As for farmers, the USDA pays 62 percent of their premiums, on average. Large-scale farmers actually make money on this so-called insurance, receiving more in claims than they pay in premiums. (The Congressional Budget Office found that farmers received $65 billion more in claims than they paid in premiums since 2000.)

Corporate players remain in the driver’s seat

Periodic talk about the need to clean up the Farm Bill has never produced any improvements. Reforms adopted in 1996 were reversed a few years later. In 2014 another overhaul added more subsidies and higher costs. The policies embedded in the bill continue to promote overproduction, inflate the price of land, and contribute to environmental destruction.

A different vision is available

There could be a different Farm Bill that reflects the needs of farmers rather than the power of corporate farms and their legions of lobbyists. That kind of Farm Bill would include programs that provide aid to small- and medium-sized farms, increases access to locally grown food, and promotes environmental stability. In fact Rep. Earl Blumenthal (D, OR) introduced a comprehensive reform of the Farm Bill in November 2017. The extensive set of provisions in the Food and Farm Act came out of a multi-year effort with a lot of stakeholders—you can read highlights of the proposal at blumenauer.house.gov/files/food–and –farm–act.

Information in this article came from articles online in The New Republic, The Cato Institute and The American Farm Bureau Foundation.

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