Fruit Loops

Last week saw the publication of a couple of choice items in the press that we are just now getting around to.

First up, a good article in the New York Times surveys the political clout of the specialty crop lobby during the 2007 Farm Bill- and finds it wanting:

A new farm bill is on the drawing board in Washington, and growers of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts and nursery crops, known collectively as specialty crops, came up with an $8.5 billion wish list. They built political alliances. They doubled their campaign contributions. They even sent nine perky watermelon queens in white sashes to Capitol Hill to press their case.

But confronting what a United States senator calls “old-time power politics,” mastered long ago by savvier farm lobbies like cotton and corn, the specialty crop growers are coming up short of their goals. They have secured only $1.6 billion so far in a House vote and are scrambling to improve on that as the Senate takes up the issue this week…

Later on in the article, Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group gets in some shots- evidently there was a partnership, but it fell apart once the specialty crop lobbyists started seeing the green:

Industry leaders acknowledge they used the reform coalition to gain leverage. After winning $1.6 billion in the House, they noted it was bigger than any previous appropriation — but also said it was far less than they wanted.“We would not have been able to support it if it was any lower,” Mr. Guenther said.The industry tactics angered some longtime critics of farm subsidies.

“If there is a cheaper date in town, I’d like to meet them,” said Kenneth Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group that backs changes in farm policy. “We would never trust them to work with again.”

Well, we can’t say we’re surprised. It shouldn’t be news to anyone that the specialty crop alliance is dominated by big producers- and all along they’ve made it plain their support can be bought (which is not to single them out- that’s standard practice for many coalitions, and at least they’re honest about it). In the end, the big specialty crop producers are probably about as interested in reform that helps small and mid-size family farms as the Cotton Council is.

What the specialty crop guys evidently have yet to learn is this: You don’t get much of anything in the farm bill unless you’re willing to lay down on the tracks. If you want to win, you have to be willing to stop the entire farm bill until you get what you want. And you have to be a credible threat. Given the number and seniority of legislators from specialty crop areas, they are a credible- and they could stop the farm bill. But you can’t cut your deal too early- and you better make sure your legislators are solidly behind you.

Now that we’re in the Senate, Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) seems to be taking the lead in pushing specialty crop priorities. If fruit and vegetable honchos want more money than they got in the House, they had better be putting the fear into some of their other allies- especially when it comes to floor votes.

In a juicy tidbit too good to pass up, the Washington Post reports on a “fiscally conservative” local political candidate who just happens to receive farm program checks:

Gary H. Baise, the Republican candidate for Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman, who tells audiences that he stands for "lower taxes, limited government and less spending," collected nearly $300,000 in federal subsidies for his southern Illinois farm between 1995 and 2005, U.S. Department of Agriculture records show.

Baise, a Falls Church trial lawyer who charges private-sector clients $525 an hour, said yesterday that wealthy individuals such as himself should not be eligible for the payments. He acknowledged that his 700-acre corn and soybean operation in Morgan, Ill., about 30 miles west of Springfield, would have been "immensely" profitable last year even without subsidies, principally because of booming corn sales to ethanol producers.

"There's no way you can justify this for guys like me," he said. "This is what is wrong with government."

Asked why he continues to take federal subsidies, Baise said, "Because I pay so much in taxes, it's some way of getting it back."

Uh, right. Have we mentioned that our favorite piece of legislation, the Dorgan-Grassley payment limits bill, would ensure that the people receiving farm program checks are actually farmers? I think we have. We’ll do our best to get Dorgan-Grassley passed, and I’m sure Baise will be grateful when we boot him off the subsidy gravy train.

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