Sunday, December 26, 2004
Big Farms Harvest Big Government Checks
So, the Republicans use embattled small family farmers in ads promoting corporate welfare schemes. Sounds awfully immoral to this blue stater.
For despite the fact that farm income has doubled in two years, federal subsidies have also gone up nearly 40 percent over the same period - projected at $15.7 billion this year, and $130 billion over the last nine years. And that bounty is drawing fire from people who say that at this moment of farm prosperity, the nation's subsidy system has never made less sense.
Even those deeply steeped in the system acknowledge it seems counterintuitive. "I struggle with the same question: how the hell can you have such high government payments if farmers had such a great year?" said Keith Collins, the chief economist for the Agriculture Department.
The answer lies in the quirks of the federal farm subsidy system as well as in the way savvy farmers sell their crops. Mr. Collins said farmers use the peculiar world of agriculture market timing to get both high commodity prices and high subsidies.
"The biggest reason is with record crops, prices have fallen," he said. "And farmers are taking advantage of that."
A farmer can sell his crop early at a high price, say, in a futures contract, and still collect a subsidy check after the harvest from the government if prices are down over all. The money is not tied to what the farmer actually received for his crop. The farmer does not even have to sell the crop to get the check, only prove that the market has dropped below a certain set rate.
But because nearly 70 percent of the subsidies go to the top 10 percent of agricultural producers, the recent prosperity is not seen or felt among many small to medium-size growers who keep the struggling counties of the Great Plains alive.
Source: NY Times