There’s been quite a bit of talk surrounding former American Farm Bureau Federation President Dean Kleckner’s opinion piece in the New York Times essentially calling for an end to farm subsidies.  Failing that, Kleckner would really like to substantially revise them to make the subsidies more trade-friendly.  The most pressing question for me:  Why should I care what Dean Kleckner thinks?

The clear subtext in Kleckner’s article is that he “has seen the light” and now thinks we should get rid of all farm subsidies.   Well, that’s great.  What, exactly, is he going to do to make that happen?  He’s no longer AFBF president, and that wasn’t his tune even when he was- even after his New Zealand trip in the mid-90s. 

He, in fact, now heads the Truth About Trade and Technology, which acts to support free trade and agricultural biotechnology.  OK then.  Somehow I have this feeling that Kleckner may have another mea culpa to issue 5 years from now- if he’s working for an organization that supports a different agenda.

In fact, why is he pushing this now? If you really wanted to abolish farm programs, he should have been shouting from the rooftops two years ago.  Today, the basic structure of farm programs in the 2007 Farm Bill has already been decided.

And Kleckner says the following:

As for the farm bill, the answer isn’t necessarily to get out of the subsidy business entirely (although it’s preferable). The W.T.O. permits certain types of subsidies. The European Union spends substantially more public money on farmers per acre than we do, but its methods of payment are more compatible with global rules because they’re based on acreage and production history rather than on current crop production and prices. This makes them less disruptive to international markets.

Congress can change the farm bill to meet global rules while serving our public interests of a secure food supply, rural economic development and a cleaner environment. If it doesn’t, it will reap us nothing more than a long losing streak at the World Trade Organization.

This is a masterpiece of evasion.  No particulars, just hide behind a general preference to eliminate farm programs (which isn’t going to happen for now, as he well knows) and bring out some stock phrases on the trade-friendly future of farm programs.  Kleckner, you need to step up to the plate and offer some specifics.

I assume he's talking about direct payments, which are paid on a historical basis, regardless of price or current production.  I’m going to assume he wants greater investment in conservation and rural development programs.  So come out and say what you want: increased direct payments, and shifting payments from trade-distorting payments (marketing loans, countercyclical) to conservation, rural development, etc.  Heck, that’s not a bad idea, even if your motivation is flawed.   (By the way, RUPRI did a good job of explaining how rural development programs help farmers just recently.) 

Dean Kleckner was President of AFBF for 14 years.  He helped create the current system, and probably knows it as well as anyone.   When he starts mentioning specifics, I’ll start listening. 

If he wants write some happy-go-lucky-pro-trade-let’s-not-offend-anyone opinion piece, I have to wonder why the New York Times would even bother to print it.

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