Dynamist Blog

The Latest Farm Follies

Since he's gotten over his fear of vetoes, Bush's threat to veto the abyssmal Senate farm bill looks somewhat credible. Organic foodie Michael Pollan published a passionate piece against the bill in Sunday's NYT, concluding that the "politics of food have changed." If only. I can't decide whether he's disingenuously attempting to mold reality or very ingenuously mistaking his new-found interest for a new coalition. In fact, the coalition he identifies has existed at least since the late 1980s, with little to show for its efforts. I fear the SacBee's Dan Weintraub is closer to the mark:

This should be an ideal time to reform federal farm policy, if not junk it altogether. Farm incomes are forecast to be a record $87.1 billion this year, up an astounding 47 percent from a year ago and about 50 percent above the average for the past 10 years. The average farm household income is up 8 percent this year to about $87,000.

But instead of recognizing that subsidizing agriculture, if it ever made sense, no longer does, Congress is bent on continuing and even expanding the old ways. The new bill retains subsidies for corn, soybeans, cotton and rice as well as sugar price supports. Its worst feature is a projected $26 billion in direct payments that go to farmers even if prices and incomes are high — corporate welfare at its worst....

These concerns prompted the creation this year of a broad coalition of environmentalists and fresh-food advocates opposed to the status quo. They seemed to be making some headway until Congress threw a token to California's fruit, vegetable and nut industry, which had been shut out of subsidies in the past.

These specialty crop growers would get $1.6 billion over five years in the House version of the bill and $2 billion under the Senate version — a tiny piece of the total package but enough, apparently, to buy their support. The Western Growers Association, which represents California fruit, nut and vegetable growers, plans to support the bill.

Read both articles. And check out this semi-hopeful Jonathan Rauch piece from January. Ask yourself how many presidential candidates have taken on the farm lobby as they campaign across Iowa. (Even Pollan suggest that food stamps are a good idea, when cash payments that could be spent on rent, doctor visits, or school clothes would be more useful to the poor--and less fattening.) An unpopular lame-duck president, however, has nothing to lose. Maybe a veto could in fact change the usual dynamic.

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