The hard-working folks over at the Environmental Working Group have been ratcheting up the pressure for farm bill reform, both in the conservation and commodity reform arenas. It's a good idea to visit their blog, Mulch, and check them out kicking ass and taking names. Here's some highlights:
First up, and well worth the read, August 26th, EWG senior analyst had an opinion piece in the Des Moines Register:
At EWG, we also see that current farm policy hurts small family farmers by spending most of taxpayers' money on a handful of profitable agribusinesses and wealthy absentee landowners. When Maurice Wilder, a real-estate developer reportedly worth $500 million, receives roughly $1 million a year in federal farm subsidies, you know that the system is broken.
In a cruel twist of irony, farm subsidies provide big farm operations with liquidity to outbid their small- and medium-sized neighbors for cropland. The result? Big farmers get bigger, small farmers are pushed off the land, and people and jobs leave rural communities. Consolidation has become a government-subsidized reality. [Full Article Here]
Next up, EWG's Carrie Gouldin put together a nice video demonstrating farm program dollars our flowing to the big city- and you know these people aren't farmers. Yet again, the need for a real rule that ensures farm program payments go to actual farmers is starkly illustrated. A revolutionary idea, we know. Watch the video here.
Then EWG put out a report, in conjunction with several other organizations, regarding the conservation practices farmers are supposed to follow to qualify for farm program checks. It seems USDA isn't exactly on top of the issue, and even when they are, the penalties assessed for noncompliance are often overturned. Lots of press attention, and it warms our hearts to see multiple organizations working together and all being quoted in the same article (in Arkansas, no less!):
Agricultural erosion this year in the Mississippi River basin has helped create the third-largest “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico’s history, according to a report released Monday by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D. C.-based nonprofit.
The Mississippi River basin drains 40 percent of the continental United States and carries 1. 7 billion tons of eroded soil annually to the Gulf of Mexico, said Matt Roda, water resources program director for the New Orleans-based Gulf Restoration Network. Accompanying nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from manure and fertilizer runoff leads to algae blooms that rob the water of oxygen and kill fish in the dead zone, which forms every year at the mouth of the river, he said. [Full Article Here]
Well done, and we should give a special mention to the good people at the Gulf Restoration Network.
Last but not least, the press types at EWG did a hell of a job in getting a twelve minute CNBC segment on the farm bill that is quite possibly the best TV news coverage I've seen. I insist you watch it immediately, right here. It takes a little while to load, but trust me, it is worth the wait. EWG president Ken Cook is interviewed at length.
CNBC actually goes down to Arkansas and notes the disparity between farm program payments and a dying small town, and details the elaborate schemes used to avoid payment limits- all legal under current law. Not only that, they actually interview the supposed "farm owner" who receives payments but immediately turns the money over to the corporate farm- and the lawyer who makes it all possible.