Thursday, June 23, 2011

Have we thought this through?...  

AgWeb readers really, really seem to dislike President Obama. And I think they are fairly reflective of farmers I know.

There is much to hate, of course.
  • His strong support for ethanol
  • Record high grain farm incomes during his administration
  • A persistently low dollar
  • His support of current farm policy
  • Soaring farmland prices 
  • Record low interest rates that don't budge
Of course, all these are easy to set aside because he's...well, socialist. And if there is one thing we don't like it's socialism for others. (See also: Medicare and seniors)

If only we could get some solid conservatives like Victor Davis Hanson in power. (What up with this guy and three names? Is he a poet or potential assassin?)

The Department of Agriculture no longer serves as a lifeline to millions of struggling homestead farmers. Instead, it is a vast, self-perpetuating postmodern bureaucracy with an amorphous budget of some $130 billion -- a sum far greater than the nation's net farm income this year. In fact, the more the Agriculture Department has pontificated about family farmers, the more they have vanished -- comprising now only about 1 percent of the American population.
Net farm income is expected in 2011 to reach its highest levels in more than three decades, as a rapidly growing and food-short world increasingly looks to the United States to provide it everything from soybeans and wheat to beef and fruit. Somebody should explain that good news to the Department of Agriculture: This year it will give a record $20 billion in various crop "supports" to the nation's wealthiest farmers -- with the richest 10 percent receiving more than 70 percent of all the redistributive payouts. If farmers on their own are making handsome profits, why, with a $1.6 trillion annual federal deficit, is the Department of Agriculture borrowing unprecedented amounts to subsidize them?
At least $5 billion will be in direct cash payouts. Yet no one in the USDA can explain why cotton and soybeans are subsidized, but not lettuce or carrots. In fact, 70 percent of all subsidies go to corn, wheat, cotton, rice and soybean farmers. Most other farmers receive no federal cash.
Yet somehow peach, melon and almond growers seem to be doing fine without government checks in the mail. Then there is the more than $5 billion in ethanol subsidies that goes to the nation's corn farmers to divert their acreage to produce transportation fuel. That program has somehow managed to cost the nation billions, send worldwide corn prices sky-high, and distort global trade in ethanol at the expense of far cheaper sugarcane. And while the Obama administration discourages new production of far cheaper transportation fuels derived from natural gas, oil, shale oil and tar sands, it is borrowing billions to pay farmers to grow uncompetitive fuel.
About every 10 years or so, public outrage forces Congress to promise to curtail the subsidy programs. But when the deadline arrives, our elected officials always find a trendy excuse like "green energy" or "national security" to continue welfare to agribusiness.
Free-market conservatives don't dare touch the Department of Agriculture, given the senatorial clout of Midwest farm states and the mythology of the independent American yeoman farmer. Don't expect left-wing Democrats to object, either. In a brilliantly conceived devil's bargain, the Department of Agriculture gives welfare to the wealthy on the one hand, while on the other sending more than $70 billion to the lower-income brackets in food stamps. [More]
The last thing farmers should hope for is conservative groundswell forcing an ill-timed plunge into austerity and recession. Meanwhile, right-wing think tanks from Cato to Heritage hate our farm policy, and are prodding politicians on the right fiercely. And making progress: the Coburn ethanol coup, for example.

To be sure, Obama wants to target toward smaller farmers, and maybe no program is better than sharing with vegetable growers and beginners. And the regulation uproar (which I consider to be a deliberate distraction from our sector's incongruous good times in this economy) is going to make it harder to do business as usual in areas like animal handling, runoff/erosion, and pollution.

But seriously, are these irritants sufficient  to outweigh the fact Obama is the subsidy-farmer's best friend in Washington? I can appreciate the protein sector going to war against the administration, but corn farmers?

Were it not for the alarming fiscal/social policies being touted by Republicans right now, I wonder how I can even countenance the President.


Tim said...

- Record high grain farm incomes during his administration
- A persistently low dollar
- Soaring farmland prices
- Record low interest rates that don't budge

Of which none of these is a result of anything he has, or hasn't, done.

John Phipps said...


I agree, but if they were headed in the other direction would we be so benign in assessing the blame? Besides the buck stops there, as all presidents experience.

Of course, every president inherits an economy and its momentum, but my point is if people vote their wallets at that moment in November, farmers should be saying yes to Obama based on the situation right now. At least he doesn't oppose many things grain farmers want, and that's not where I think the right is coming from.

Sadly, I still think his farm policy is terrible.

Anonymous said...

What farm policy would you like to see adopted?

Anonymous said...

John. In regards to the farmer complaints you have heard stating that Obama is a socialist. It takes one to know one, otherwise how would they know!! Keep on writing.

John Phipps said...


In a word, almost none. I'll outline my farm platform in a separate post.

Tim said...

I am not one who thinks the President is a socialist. Or a President who does not love our country. But, for the most part, I think he is pretty far to the left. And I am unlikely to vote for him.

Having said that, I think has treated the office of President with a much higher level of respect than a former Democratic President.

And, it is hard to know for sure from the outside, but his daughters appear to be very fine, well adjust girls, and his love for his entire family appears very genuine.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone else notice that there was only one vote from Washington D.C., and it was the highest mark you could don't really think he reads AgWeb, do you???

Anonymous said...

High food prices won't re-elect the man. So, watch out. On another matter, what are the economic implications of legalizing gay marriage? Is getting health insurance for your partner it, or is there more. What big rights do "married" people have that singles dont? I assume they are so bent for it by economic reasons.Sorry, but the man is in New York champaigning on it.

John Phipps said...

Anon (last):

The post was not about Obama's electability. It was about why corn farmers dislike him. After all the complaints about a "cheap food" policy, your comment looks like another reason for NCGA to endorse him.

As for the gay marriage issue, I have no particular interest. Speculate as you will.

Derek said...

I guess I'll go politically incorrect here and venture a guess that the same thing is the matter with many farmers across the country as is the Matter with Kansas. Thomas Frank tackles this issue in his book by the same name. Fire people up to vote cultural issues, policy be damned. Just had to use the above link to see our ol' buddy Dan Glickman, and who can resist watching M.T. Liggett who has the same views on gay marriage as you do.

Steve said...

My local State Senator says that the people in the region that I live in care about two things when they vote for someone at the State or national level. Abortion and Guns. Obama seems to differ with with the prevailing local opinion on the two issues they care the most about.

Derek said...

Steve- I continue to be amazed at the willingness of voters to completely base their voting decisions on how closely a candidate's views on these two issues align with their own. They place total importance on these issues, while candidates use them more for campaigning than as policies to address when in office. It is not a priority for Obama to change policy on either of these issues, yet as you imply he is doomed as a candidate in many localities because his opponents will pander to the voters on these issues. This pandering feels to me suspiciously like manipulation (just like flattering the "special" farmers). If enough of us fall for this manipulation into cultural, non-compromisable issues, we will eventually get what we deserve. Maybe we can just eat cake if there is no bread!

Steve said...

Who am I to tell someone what to base their vote on. When a democrat comes out against abortion and in support of guns they can beat republicans. I suspect that if a national non-republican candidate was convincingly supportive of the two key issues that they could eliminate farm subsidies, ethanol, etc. and still get the vote of the local community. Yes, some politicians pander on the issues but for many people it is what matters to them. Now if two candidates agree with them on abortion and guns then everything else comes into play. But on the national level that doesn't happen very often. The non-republican has his group that he needs to pander to.

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