This essay will run in the August issue of the Center for Rural Affairs Newsletter. Chuck Hassebrook is the Executive Director of the Center for Rural Affairs.
The vote by the House Agriculture Committee to increase subsidies to the nation’s largest farms is a disservice to rural America.
Its version of the farm bill raised the true limit on direct payments made regardless of farm prices from $80,000 to $120,000. Mega farms get an additional $40,000 each year to drive their neighbors out of business. The increase is only for married mega farmers. Widows and bachelors take a small cut.
The bill had the support of all House Agriculture Committee members and major farm organizations. Those who should know better justified their action by saying they cannot pass a farm with real payment limitations in the face of opposition from large cotton and rice interests.
That is bunk. Big cotton and rice farmers are getting over $200 per acre annually under the farm bill. Are they going to kill a farm bill that pays them $200 per acre and hundreds of thousands of dollars total because of a payment cap?
It is the absence of effective payment limitations that makes farm bills hard to pass. Million dollar payments to mega farms are destroying the credibility of farm programs.
Among all the supporters of increasing mega farm payments, the most troubling is National Farmers Union. Last winter, grassroots members strengthened the organization’s stand for tighter payment limits. But Farmers Union national officials endorsed the payment limitation increase in direct defiance of the membership.
Farm organizations and the entire House Agriculture Committee apparently believe the key to rural political success lies in delivering more money quickly to farmers, even it if distributed in a manner that destroys family farming and weakens rural communities.
It is up to us – rural people – to prove them wrong. We must hold our elected representatives and organizations accountable if they continue down the path to passing another farm bill that destroys family farming and weakens rural communities.
We can have a better future in rural America. There are proven strategies that work to revitalize family farms and small communities. But we need government that supports local entrepreneurial initiatives, rather than undermining them.
In recent years, the federal government has spent more subsidizing the 20 biggest farms in each of 13 Central US states than it spent on rural development in the 20 counties in each of those states with the greatest population loss. Government invested less in the future of 260 rural counties comprised of 3 million people and over 1,400 towns, than it spent subsidizing 260 mega farms to drive small operations out of business.
The House farm bill worsens the imbalance. For that we must hold our Representatives accountable. The U.S. Senate takes up the farm bill in September. It is up to us to demand that they do better.