Since I seem to have fallen into a periodic summary of what's being written written about the farm bill debate, here is this week's contribution.
There are some clear themes emerging, such as maldistribution of payments.
For decades, the answer to that question has ranged from a tepid "not really" to a resounding "no." Understandably. In the past, rural interests -- diverse as they are -- have spoken with disjointed, and at times competing, voices. They have also been dominated by agriculture with a capital A -- not the small family farms that most of us care about and yet which receive little help, but the big commodity growers that grab the lion's share of federal farm assistance. [More]and budget concerns
In an effort to cut back, some lawmakers want to reduce or eliminate direct payments, subsidies that are not based on current crop production or prices. The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, has supported this approach and encouraged spending more money on conservation programs. [More]and the fruits-and-vegetable omission
Yet a promising drive to shift subsidies away from the largest and more profitable grain and cotton farms to smaller fruit and vegetable outlets, as well as to conservation programs to help farmers keep fertilizer out of the Chesapeake Bay, is faltering badly. [More]and the wrong-food subsidy angle
Due in part to this imbalance, we are paying more than $100 billion a year in obesity-related medical costs. If our farm bills had also been healthy food bills, we would have distributed government support more equitably to make nutritious foods more accessible and more consistent with US Department of Agriculture dietary guidance, which encourages us to eat more fruits and vegetables. [More]and a new one - good politics for freshmen Congresspeople
The answer, in a report to be released at noon today, is that farmers in 36 of 55 districts represented by freshmen members would receive a fairer share of federal farm spending if Congress shifted direct payments to share the cost of clean water or wildlife habitat. Farmers in 12 districts would see little or no change. Many of these districts are located in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio — large farm states that currently receive little support from USDA. [More]The level of activity in op-ed pages seems pretty high for a farm bill and metro papers. Still, this is the first farm bill with on-line monitoring, so what do we have to compare it to?