Apparently the federal government is still doling out millions of dollars to millionaires via agricultural subsidies, some of whom aren’t even gentleman farmers — have nothing to do with farming, other than to collect their subsidy checks — and just as bad or maybe even worse is a misguided effort to burn cleaner fuel and help corn farmers at the same time. It is causing an environmental crisis and has increased food prices. The latter has to do with the corn-based ethanol mandate for our gasoline.
I’m talking about two different but somewhat related things here.
The subsidy scandal has been around for a long time. I mean at least once a year the story is done. But the lobby that supports the subsidies is strong and misrepresents itself as supporting Ma and Pa down on the farm, lest they lose the farm to the uncertainties of crop prices and weather and the high cost of chemical based, manufactured fertilizer (and gee in the old days it just came out of the end of a cow, as a byproduct, you might say), oh, and the evil banker foreclosing on the unpaid mortgage. But much of the subsidies go to extremely large farming operations and even business operations of individuals who have nothing to do with farming, other than they have investments involving land and other than they have somehow finagled their way into the subsidy bonanza.
And whether some of these subsidy payments may be collected illegally is apparently in question and there does not seem to be a lot of oversight by the government agencies involved. In fact, I just read that rules are being changed in the name of more transparency but in reality some of the subsidies are going to be moved to different programs that do not provide transparency. I know. That does not make sense. I don’t claim to be an expert in all of this. Like Will Rogers, all I know is what I read in the papers, well on the computer. But there is a bad smell from the farm programs and it is not cow manure.
And I’ll just add, something I have mentioned previously, my own congressman comes from a family who has a large farming operation, of which he is part, and it has collected millions of dollars over the years in subsidies. He is a conservative, anti-tax, get the government-out-of-my-business conservative Tea Party Republican. He sees no conflict. I imagine he considers it just good business.
The ethanol mandate was supported heavily by presidential candidate Barack Obama and continues to be supported by President Obama. He needed to woo Midwest corn farmers, particularly the Iowa farmers to influence the Iowa caucuses. Supposedly, replacing part of the gasoline mix with the additive of ethanol makes the fuel burn cleaner. Whether that is true or not, the resulting demand for corn has resulted in more pollution and environmental damage and has caused food prices to skyrocket because corn that would have gone either directly for human food or to humans via livestock feed is being siphoned off into ethanol production, the process of which causes pollution. And what has been noticed now is that farmers have put so many acres into corn, to include virgin ground, that it is becoming an environmental disaster, to include heavy erosion. And such heavy fertilizer use contaminates ground water and water ways and large bodies of water, such as the Gulf of Mexico. Lands that had been put into conservation programs, that carried a government incentive, are now being put into corn because the price of corn has jumped.
Now as to farm subsidies, there may be an argument for them having to do with supporting family farms and maintaining a stable food supply. But they seem to be maintaining rich people and maybe there is a less costly and more efficient method of maintaining food supplies. And stepped up oversight is certainly in order. And if your income is in the millions (or billions), really it is hard to argue that you need help from the government. And if it is only in the millions because of the government, well the government should not be in the farming business and you should not be either.
As for the ethanol thing, well for one thing, as I understand it, it does not improve gas mileage and in fact reduces it. And I have already mentioned the environmental harm and the effect it has on food prices.
I am not at all against our agricultural sector. Much of my life I have worked in connection with it. A lot of family farmers run major operations that look more like corporate endeavors than that iconic picture of Ma and Pa down on the farm somewhere in Iowa, but the farmers I have come into contact with are hard working and multi-talented, being part businessman, farmer, mechanic, construction worker and so on. I don’t begrudge their success. And I suppose if the government is offering a subsidy it in most cases it is simply good business to take advantage. But on the other hand, we all have to realize that it makes no sense and is not fair to the rest of us for our government to subsidize people who can do quite well on their own. And I really have no good feeling about subsidizing corporate farming operations. Businessmen want independence and they should get it.
I’ve provided links to two stories that deal with the subjects I covered:
I forgot to mention that energy independence was used as a selling point for corn-based ethanol production. But as I understand it, what with natural gas and new oil extracting methods we are now energy independent. I mean Hitler did turn to making fuel for his tanks from distilling the alcohol out of potatoes — but that meant everyone had fewer potatoes to eat.