Saturday, April 23, 2011

Not totally alone...

Steve Chapman echoes my commentary this week on USFR. Why do only certain farmers get subsidies?

Most farmers, in fact, manage with a minimum of federal help because they raise commodities that don't get subsidies. The great majority of government payments go to producers of just five crops: corn, wheat, soybean, rice and cotton. Yet if you go to the grocery store, you will find racks filled with potatoes, strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes, lettuce, nuts and carrots, grown without being heavily fertilized with tax dollars.Here's how the market in those items works: Farmers plant the crops, harvest the crops and sell the crops. If things go well, they earn a profit. If not, they don't.Those farmers with a knack for making money stay in business and prosper. Those who lose money go bust. It resembles most of the other businesses in America — with the notable exception of the rest of agriculture.We really have two agriculture systems in this country. One is based on generous federal subsidies (as with corn and wheat) or strict federal control of production and imports to keep prices high (as with sugar and dairy products). The other relies on open markets, the free interplay of supply and demand, the usual "creative destruction" of a capitalist economy, and the absence of guarantees.Both produce huge amounts of the commodities we need. Both provide a good living to farmers. But one costs taxpayers billions of dollars a year, and the other doesn't. Now, which approach sounds better? And why do we insist on using an inferior model when we have a superior one available?Farmers who cherish their federal aid regard any effort to cut it as a scorched-earth strategy that will leave devastation behind. But really, it's just pulling weeds. And as any farmer knows, pulling 20 percent of your weeds doesn't do much good. [More]
The answer to approximately 90% of subsidy justifications is: potatoes.  How do we grow potatoes in the US without socialist farm programs? 
Pretty damn well, I'd say. 


Bob Kinford said...

The subsidy which irritates me the most is paying farmers to leave ground out of production. As one who has worked for others in the cattle industry, I would love to be able to find ground to lease for pasture. It is hard to find and irritating to see plenty of overgrown grass which needs to be grazed to remain healthy, yet is kept out of production because the government pays $55 an acre to leave it OUT of production

Unknown said...

Not all grass needs to be grazed to be healthy. Some land that is taken out of production is planted to a diverse mix of native grasses and forbs. These natives provide cover for birds and wildlife, and do quite nicely. They also add plant material through several feet of soil to help aerate and return nutrients to the soil.

Bob Kinford said...

This works to a certain extent. But if the dead grass is not removed it eventually does two things. First, it builds up a matting of dead grass which provides fuel for wild fires (a big part of the problem with the fires in Texas right now). Second, the build up of matted grass slows down regrowth of grass the next growing season.

The absolute FASTEST way to reestablish is to feed native hay by either rolling out bales and pacing the cattle on it. As the cattle are eating, they are also loosening the ground, working seed into the ground as well as fertilizing all at the same time. They work enough hay into the ground that it keeps the allows the rain to soak into the ground rather than wash the seed away.

There are also two other benefits not talked about much. First, where you graze in a high density, short time grazing is that deer and other wildlife will follow the grazing patters of the cattle as those are the places which green up fastest. If one is herding their cattle (as opposed to controlling with fences) the cattle stay bunched on their own. When they are acting like this, if a deer is being chased by a predator, it will run into the cowherd for protection. The reaction of the cattle (when they are actually acting as a herd) is to gang up on the predator. It is a pretty amazing sight to watch a pack of coyotes being chased by several hundred cows.

Anonymous said...

Certain farmers receive the benefits because we did not listen to the university profs, and bought land anyway, even though they told us not to, back in the 60's!