Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Agribusiness As Usual

Right now the White House and a couple of Supreme Courts are getting a lot of attention, and deservedly so. President Obama has just named his first nominee to the US Supreme Court, one that isn't nearly as controversial as the spittle flecked conservative cadre would have us believe. On the same day, the California Supreme Court ruled against itself and in favor of the passage of Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage ban. Both are very important stories for this nation to digest.

However, on the Hill, Congress is still in session (sorta kinda) and dealing with the more mundane issues of the budget, and there are some stories there which may, in the long run, have just as much of an impact on the future of this country. The Boston Globe delved into one of the budget issues yesterday in an editorial dealing with farm subsidies and who really benefits from them.

PRESIDENT OBAMA promised in February to "end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don't need them." Ever since, farm-belt politicians and lobbyists have been trying to crop-dust him into backing off - a sad testament to the power of farming interests over basic budget sense. ...

...Agricultural lobbyists like to pretend that they are protecting small farmers from financial ruin. While some families continue to eke out a modest living from the land, American farming is now an industrial-scale business. According to a December report by the US Department of Agriculture, the 8 percent of farms with sales of $250,000 or more make up a whopping 76 percent of all sales.

Federal direct payments disproportionately help large corporate farmers. While 40 percent of farms with sales under $250,000 received direct payments in 2006, 65 percent of farms with sales over $1 million received subsidies. In other words, the money goes to the farms that need it least.

Obama's proposal is quite modest, and has nothing to do with small farms. Rather, he wants to end direct subsidies to farms with an income of more than $500,000 a year. The administration also wants to reduce bloated crop insurance subsidies - another form of welfare for big corporate farms. But as the agribusiness lobby mobilizes, the administration hasn't put enough emphasis on its own proposals.

Once again we see that the "have-mores" still don't think they have enough. The effort to characterize President Obama's proposal to end subsidies only for the large corporations who run farms as an attempt to beat down the small "family farms" is laughable on its face, but only when the facts are presented, something this editorial did nicely. That's what our free press is supposed to do. It's nice to see that some take that responsibility seriously.



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