Somewhat overlooked during the holidays’ government shutdown caused by President Trump’s demand for $5 billion to partly fund a border wall that Democrats don’t support was the delay of some farm subsidies and other payments to farmers.
That sparked a couple of thoughts this week, when the country waited for another shutdown or Trump’s refusing to agree to a compromise and threatening an unconstitutional declaration of a National Emergency to unilaterally build a wall without Congressional approval.
First, aren’t farm subsidies taxpayer-funded, government assistance programs – a form of socialism? There is nothing improper or illegal about receiving benefits to which farmers are entitled, of course. But neither is receiving Social Security or government pensions, food stamps or aid from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), housing allowances or Medicaid/the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), all of which are too often criticized as “handouts.”
Next, are everyday Americans aware of the extent of the subsidies, authorized once more in the $867 billion Farm Bill signed by Trump in December?
The most recent data (from Fiscal Year 2017) is revealing, according to a report published by OpenTheBooks.com, part of American Transparency, an independent watchdog group and database.
Headed by conservative Illinois politician Adam Andrzejewski, it’s a Burr Ridge, Ill., organization that defines “farm subsidy” as benefits from 60 federal farm programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture including marketing assistance, agricultural risk, conservation, and crop disaster.
“During the Great Depression, when most Americans lived in rural areas and many families risked losing their farm, Congress passed the Agriculture Adjustment Act in 1933 as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation,” wrote Andrzejewski and co-author Thomas W. Smith. “Farm subsidies were created to keep the small family farm afloat and ensure a stable national food supply.”
But times changed.
Writing in Forbes magazine, Andrzejewski – endorsed by Rush Limbaugh and some Tea Party figures in Republicans’ 2010 GOP primary for Illinois Governor – said, “Today, these subsides have grown so lucrative that wealthy investors, large corporations and farm-estate heirs use taxpayer money to maximize their return on investment. It was never the intent of Congress to create a new class of millionaires through federal farm subsidies.”
Perhaps campaign contributors and lobbyists could be blamed for tainting what started as a way to help family farms feed the country. And advocacy groups such as the Farm Bureau continue to say that farmers “feed the world.”
But do they? U.S. agriculture no longer grows food for hungry people, said Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists. She reported that 40 percent of the biggest crop – corn – goes into fuel for cars. Most of the second-biggest crop – soybeans – is fed to animals.
Indeed, besides fuel, corn is harvested for “a range of high-value uses including plastics, solvents and fibers,” conceded Dan Wesely, chair of the National Corn Growers Association.
Agriculture could feed more people, according to Congressional Quarterly’s “Farm Products in World Trade” report, which noted, “An acre produces six to seven times as much food when planted to crops for direct human consumption as when used to pasture milk animals, and about 19 times as much as when used to raise poultry for egg production.”
Andrzejewski said, “The nation’s food supply is not in jeopardy. The U.S. is the world’s largest food exporter and produced more food than the entire European Union combined last year.”
As far as FY 2017 federal farm subsidies, they’re not abstract or distant. For example, OpenTheBooks reports these downstate-Illinois recipients of farm subsidies, by counties – Fulton: Brian Lehman $1,393.730; Henderson: Country Farms (Biggsville) $606,541; Henry: Baum Farms (Geneseo) $1,631,183.68; Knox: Inness Farm R & R (Galesburg) $756,555; Livingston: Robert Trainor (Fairbury) $356,488.42; McDonough: Stephen Paul (Bushnell) $276,520.60; Mercer: Jeffrey Kirwan (New Windsor) $1,095,560; Peoria: Kirk Kimble (Chillicothe) $2,096,498.01; Tazewell: Kent Cornwell (Mackinaw) $778,670.26; Warren: Jenks Family Farm (Monmouth) $7,639,564; and Woodford: J&D Farms (Roanoke) $2,473.665.06.
OpenTheBooks’ other findings include:
• one out of every four dollars in farm subsidies went to someone who received $250,000 or more that year; and
• residents of the nation’s five biggest cities received nearly $17 million in farm subsidies over a three-year period, including Chicago ($7.7 million), Miami ($4.5 million), New York City ($2.8 million), Los Angeles ($1.6 million) and Philadelphia ($309,000).
Information and background on American Transparency’s report, “Harvesting U.S. Farm Subsidies,” is online at www.openthebooks.com/
Bill Knight has been a reporter, editor and columnist for more than 50 years. Also an author, Knight is a journalism professor emeritus from WIU, where he taught for more than 20 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For archives, visit mayflyproductions.blogspot.com.