Sunday, May 09, 2010

Maybe I will join the Tea Party...

If farm program proponents keep coming out with statements like this:
"The ag committee has always cared about that. Haven't they heard of the Rural Electric Administration back in the 30s? We've always cared, but don't make us pick between conservation and commodity titles and so-called rural development and infrastructure programs. We have a right to have both." [More] [My emphasis]
And that right would be where exactly in the Constitution? This is a textbook example of "entitlement mentality".

The argument over the loss of farmers refuses to deal with the root cause, which is not just hollowing out our profession, but much of the middle class of the US.
Technology is the main culprit. Automation and outsourcing have claimed whole classes of jobs. Among them are routine but vital tasks that were labour-intensive before the computing revolution: manufacturing and number-crunching jobs that used to pay handsomely. The economy now needs workers to do what can’t be done by machines or call-centres in Bangalore, which leaves iPad design and caretaker work but not enough in between. The supply of skilled workers has failed to keep pace with demand, so the college wage premium (see chart) has increased. 


Short version: we don't need as many farmers as farming lends itself to powerful technology.

More biorefineries won't mean more farmers.  We're obsessing over a symptom and ignoring the cause. The only valid hope for raining the number of farmers is what we saw happen in the last farm census - increase the number of very small farms.  This is done by encouraging agrarian agriculture which is much more labor intensive.

But the larger mistake is in equating the number of farmers with rural prosperity.  Farm income is not and has not been for a very long time the key component in rural economies.  Look at the BEA numbers and try to reach any other conclusion.

Finally when new or higher taxes are enacted to pay for intransigent, entrenched special interests like agriculture, we'll throw the bums out who voted for them and then whine about the deficit.


Anonymous said...

your analysis is pretty much the way i see it too. most mid to smaller farmers can hang on for this generation or till the combine wears out whichever comes first, but after that you'll see more consolidation. Farm program payments are gonna be harder and harder to defend, but try getting on agtalk and mentioning that we farmers really don't do anything for our money, those boys become fairly irate and blame it all on welfare recipients. just my opinion, wich is no doubt affected by the rainy forecaast. thanks ac

Anonymous said...

In central Nebraska my county government is almost totally run by real estate (ag land) taxes. My gov't payment $18k is about half of my local taxes $46k. Our local economy is ag dependent. The small busineses in town (county seat of 2800) do OK when ag is OK and fail when ag is tough. In our case program payments subsidise local gov't.

Anonymous said...

Why does the reality of farm politics always sound so depressing?

camel cowboy said...

It is times like these and thoughts like these that will show who the real farmers are. Hanging on to an outdated system as the world flys forward will only serve to hinder the next generation. As much as we are uncomfortable with change the ones who adapt first will reap the most benefits. How will we support rural America?

Anonymous said...

What is rural America? Rural Nebraska vs Rural Central or northern Illinois are not the same worlds. Should not have the same policy for helping both. The Austrialians I think just say " good luck Chap, sorry about the drought". There I suppose the neighbors and family help each other. There is no Uncle Sam.

Anonymous said...

big increases in land values have made millionaires out of some of us farmers who own only modest acreages. Farm consolidation has made the big bigger...and richer. Most farm program payments go to the biggest and wealthiest among us. So the problem for farmers becomes how do we justify subsidies to the wealthy? A more effective way to stimulate the local economy would be to target the less wealthy because they would tend to spend a higher percentage, whereas the wealthy would tend to have a higher savings rate. OK, so imo the reason farm politics sound so depressing is because almost all voters aren't farmers, however, on the positive side almost all voters do eat. thanks ac