Sunday, May 18, 2014

Keep an eye on this...

Perhaps the biggest coup for farm subsidy supporters in the last farm bill was re-establishing the "Cone of Silence" for farm subsidies.  Ever since the EWG got access to direct payment info under the Freedom of Information Act, farmers have been gritting their teeth as friends and family casually looked up how much they were getting from the government.

By shifting to insurance subsidies, the obscurity of who's getting what is back. It seems to me vulnerable to the same court challenges for the same reasons, but not getting a 1099-G will really complicate it.

Anyhoo, that's the reason I'm watching what's happening in Maryland.
Under that law, the Department of Agriculture is required to shield from public disclosure any information about a specific farm's "nutrient management" report. Lawmakers granted that confidentiality in hopes it would encourage farmers to support the legislation, said Maryland Assistant Attorney General Thomas Filbert.Because nutrient management plans are private, it is difficult to track which farms are letting the most fertilizer into the state's waterways. Though the state makes public broad information about agricultural pollution and environmental compliance, it does not single out growers.Blocked from getting current reports, environmental groups such as the Waterkeeper Alliance are suing for access to older files. The groups say the older reports will give the public a better view of how agriculture contributes to bay pollution.In addition, the lawsuit challenges the state's refusal to provide farms' state inspection records, which also monitor fertilizer use. The state says those are confidential under the same state law because they measure compliance with the nutrient management plan. [More]
 No idea on the timetable, nor on the odds of entering the federal appeal process to end up at SCOTUS. However, the overall trend seems to be toward more transparency, whether voluntary or not [see also: NSA]. It's really, really hard to keep stuff secret anymore.

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