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
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 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.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]
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.