The Chicago Tribune recently featured an editorial that
serves as a prime example of why there is a vast crevice dividing our urban
friends and agriculture. It all begins and ends with misinformation.
The editorial takes aim at a new farm bill.
“Big Agriculture is fighting to maintain the government
handouts that have pumped up its profits for generations. After years of soaring
farm incomes, and with a fabulous crop waiting to be harvested, it will be
tougher than ever to portray agriculture as a hardship case in need of
government protection,” the editorial said.
“Count on farm state lawmakers to try. When they complain
that this year’s bin-buster is forcing down commodity prices, don’t listen. Even
with the lower prices that come with a big crop, farmers still will be making
money at levels far beyond the norm of modern times.
“There is no reason for agriculture producers to receive big
checks from the government. But if the past is any guide, Congress will do
everything possible to line their pockets yet again.
“The indefensible practice of making ‘direct payments’ from
the Treasury to the bank accounts of well-off farmers is likely to continue as
Congress revives its dysfunctional debate over the farm bill — its main
legislation covering agriculture policy and nutrition for the poor.
“It’s time to draw the line. It’s time to pass a farm bill
that eliminates the costly and unnecessary $5 billion a year in direct payments
to farmers and landowners.
“Farm income has soared from $75.6 billion in 2009 to $99.4
billion in 2010, $134.7 billion in 2011 and $135.6 billion in 2012.
“A typical Illinois grain farmer with 1,200 acres under
cultivation — an average-sized farm by today’s standards — earned nearly
$300,000 after expenses last year, according to a University of Illinois study.
Income for that typical farmer exceeded $200,000 in every year but one between
2007 and 2011.
“We wish them even more success. Many farms have paid down
debt. Much of the equipment in use today is new. Shiny pickup trucks line
driveways in rural hamlets across the heartland.
“But subsidies and government protection? Come on. That has
The editorial folks are entitled to their opinion, but there
is one problem. Who is this “Big Agriculture” that is “fighting to maintain the
It certainly isn’t the major commodity groups that I deal
with or the farmers themselves that actually do the work and take the risk.
Farm and commodity groups actually are supporting change,
and the editorial missed it by a country mile.
Here’s a couple examples from what I suppose must be “Big
Agriculture” because they are “big” organizations representing farmers from
across the nation.
Delegates at last year’s American Farm Bureau Federation’s
annual meeting defeated a proposal to retain the current farm bill’s direct
payments and recommended a program to protect farmers from catastrophic revenue
losses by using a flexible combination of fiscally responsible tools.
The National Corn Growers Association’s position is farmers
need a strong federal crop insurance program and a market-oriented risk
management program that delivers assistance only when it is needed.
The National Farmers Union supports the elimination of
direct payments, adding that American farmers need a safety net in times of
natural disaster and long-term price collapse, not when conditions are more
The American Soybean Association recognizes that budget
constraints may require reducing or eliminating direct payments and that the
farm bill must protect and strengthen crop insurance as a viable risk management
At the local level, the Illinois Corn Growers Association
held regional meetings throughout the state and asked farmers what they liked
about current policy options, what could be improved, what they were willing to
give up to do their part on the federal deficit and what they wanted to develop
in the future.
Those polled by ICGA agreed that they could give up direct
payments — they needed a revenue-based safety net and wanted crop insurance that
really worked and protected them in crisis.
You know what really has to stop? Feeding the public with
misinformation about agriculture. It’s not them against us. We’re all in this
together, and the truth is the glue that can hold us together going forward.