Why should taxpayers subsidize farmers when they do not subsidize small businesses?
A fair question? Or is it cold and unfeeling toward those who till the land sunup to sundown to ensure an ample and cheap supply of food for cityfolks’ tables?
Hmm. Odd that we keep hearing about massive farm surpluses.
Would our nation run a serious risk of losing its abundant food supply if commodity programs did not exist?
Not according to some so-called experts. Well then, what should become of price supports - which some view as welfare - doled out by the billions to landholders, rich and poor, not to farm so they won’t grow too much?
I would not rule out any options, including the abolition of programs.
Harsh words, these.
But don’t blame me.
Everything in italics above is a direct quote from incoming Senate Agricultural Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind. And there are many like him in the new Republican regime which took over both houses of Congress on Wednesday.
In their behalf, allow me to say that these same issues have been raised repeatedly with me by readers since a column I wrote two months ago which questioned the rationale of continuing these government giveaways. I’m still getting calls and correspondence.
Today’s mail included a lengthy letter from Eva Mae Hendrickson of Garfield, Wash. She writes about holding down two jobs at the same time - one city, one farm - for a quarter century, just to survive on the land.
“Over the years, our State Department has used our food as a tool for political international policy,” she offered in explanation for the sorry state of small family farms today.
Sad but true.
And she added, evidently to support the view that continued subsidies are warranted, “Our agricultural exports help balance our trade deficit whereby everyone benefits.”
Well, there she went too far, according to Investor’s Business Daily.
“While programs help farmers,” the newspaper says, “they hurt consumers.”
For example, it is estimated peanut subsidies will average $100 million a year for the rest of this century. Besides the cost to taxpayers of this outright subsidy, says the newspaper, “The peanut program’s allocation and supply-control provisions also mean higher prices to consumers - totaling $400 million annually, according to the General Accounting Office.
“And,” the article goes on, “the peanut program, as part of the overall subsidy program is - well - peanuts.
“These subsidies totaled $15.5 billion in the 1994 budget,” said the paper, “and represented 23 percent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s $68 billion budget.”
Several readers expressed disgust that the federal government is trying to discourage tobacco as a killer on one hand and subsidizing it on the other.
“Subsidies are limited to a (relative) few crops, wheat being the major one of interest to your readers,” wrote an anonymous grower in Milton-Freewater, Ore.
He severed all ties to subsidies 10 years ago. “I frankly couldn’t criticize the able-bodied person in front of me for using food stamps at the supermarket,” he explained, “while I was on the dole, too.”
There are, however, other nations which give their growers even bigger subsidies, a number of readers said as justification for continuing to give taxpayers’ money away to farmers so they won’t plant crops.
But according to the Wall Street Journal, a newly released survey by the University of Illinois of 9,754 farmers in 15 states found that only about one-third - 37 percent - want to keep the present system of crop subsidies.
The other two-thirds of farmers said they recognized the futility of pursuing outdated programs.
Furthermore, the Journal reported, “Farmers’ standard of living is no longer lagging.”
Far from it. “The average farm-operator household income in 1990 was $51,500 - compared with $37,000 for the average U.S. household,” said the newspaper. “But most of this gain comes from off-farm work. Two-thirds of U.S. farmers rely on such jobs for most of their income.”
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review