Tag: farmers

Will the GOP Finally Cut Farm Subsidies?

With trillion dollar deficits and mounting federal debt, will Congress finally get serious about cutting farm subsidies? We’ve been disappointed before, but there are a few hopeful signs—like the front-page story in this morning’s Washington Post—that this Congress may be serious about cutting billions in payments to farmers. As the Post reports:

In their recent budget proposals, House Republicans and House Democrats targeted farm subsidies, a program long protected by members of both parties. The GOP plan includes a $30 billion cut to direct payments over 10 years, which would slash them by more than half. Those terms are being considered in the debt-reduction talks led by Vice President Biden, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The Post story profiles a freshman Republican from Kansas, Tim Huelskamp, a fifth-generation farmer himself, who has been traveling his sprawling district telling his farmer constituents that they can no longer be exempt from budget discipline. Many farmers in his district appear to agree.

It remains an open question whether the Republican freshman class will live up to Tea-Party principles of limited government when it comes to agricultural subsidies, as we have speculated ourselves (here, here, and here) at the trade center.

Farm subsidies have certainly been a weak spot of Republicans in the past. According to our online trade-vote feature, more than half of the GOP House caucus voted in May 2008 to override President Bush’s veto of the previous, subsidy laden farm bill. In July 2007, more than half the GOP caucus voted against any cuts in the sugar program, and more than two-thirds opposed any cuts in cotton subsidies. (Of course, Democrats were just as bad overall on farm subsidies.)

The next farm bill, due to be written by this Congress, will tell us a lot about whether the Republicans really believe what they’ve been saying about limiting government and reducing the debt.

Peterson (Finally) Changes His Tune

I’ve written before about Rep. Collin Peterson’s (D, MN) disdain for the World Trade Organization, and its rulings against U.S. farm programs. However, in launching his 2012 Farm Bill listening tour, the Brownfield blog reports that he sees that perhaps some changes might be necessary after all. And, lo and behold, he cites the WTO rulings as the reason:

One of the key issues [in the 2012 Farm Bill] will be what to do about the way that cotton farmers are subsidized. The committee’s chairman, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said today that the cotton program will have to be overhauled in the wake of Brazil’s successful challenge to the subsidies at the World Trade Organization. The Obama administration agreed to change the program in a deal to avert retaliation against U.S. exports to Brazil. [link added]

Subsidies for cotton currently mirror those for corn, soybeans, wheat and other commodities, but there’s no reason why they have to be the same for each crop in the future, said Peterson. “In the past we’ve tried to have a one-size-fits-all approach, but maybe that’s not the case in the future. I’m willing to consider that,” he said. “If we don’t address it, we may be back in the soup again with potential retaliation issues.” [emphasis mine]

Finally, the penny drops.

Obama Commands the Impossible

Today’s New York Times reports that President Obama has “ordered the rapid development of technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of coal,” as well as mandating the production of more corn-based ethanol and financing farmers to produce “cellulosic” ethanol from waste fiber.

You’ve got to like the president’s moxie.  Faced with his inability to pass health care reform and cap-and-trade, he now chooses to command the impossible and the inefficient.

Most power plants are simply not designed for carbon capture.  There isn’t any infrastructure to transport large amounts of carbon dioxide, and no one has agreed on where to put all of it.  Corn-based ethanol produces more carbon dioxide in its life cycle than it eliminates, and cellulosic ethanol has been “just around the corner” since I’ve been just around the corner.

However, doing what doesn’t make any economic sense makes a lot of political sense in Washington, because inefficient technologies require subsidies–in this case to farmers, ethanol processors, utilities, engineering and construction conglomerates, and a whole host of others.  Has the president forgotten that his unpopular predecessor started the ethanol boondogle (his response to global warming) and drove up the price of corn to the point of worldwide food riots? Hasn’t he read that cellulosic ethanol is outrageously expensive? Has he ever heard of the “not-in-my-backyard” phenomenon when it comes to storing something people don’t especially like?

Yeah, he probably has.  But the political gains certainly are worth the economic costs.  Think about it.  In the case of carbon capture, it’s so wildly inefficient that it can easily double the amount of fuel necessary to produce carbon-based energy.  What’s not to like if you’re a coal company, now required to load twice as many hopper cars?  What’s not to like if you’re a utility, guaranteed a profit and an incentive to build a snazzy, expensive new plant?  And what’s not to like if you’re a farmer, gaining yet another subsidy?

Conrad: Just Don’t Cut My Programs!

Prompted by my blog on Senator Kent Conrad’s Task Force to reduce the federal deficit, my assistant Amy Mandler dug up some interesting information on the good senator.

Conrad has nurtured his image as a “deficit hawk” for decades, but when it comes to subsidies for millionaire farmers he demands that the federal gravy keep flowing.

Earlier this year, for example, President Obama proposed cutting one type of farm subsidy (“direct payments”) for farmers earning over $500,000 a year. I suspect that about 95 percent of Americans would support that tiny nod toward fiscal sanity and deficit reduction. But not Senator Conrad, who helped shoot the proposal down. See here and here.

Hell Freezes Over (Or At Least Gets Cooler)

Well here’s an interesting, if three-weeks-old, story. Apparently the North Dakota Farm Bureau’s annual convention recently passed a policy calling for the elimination of all agricultural programs.  Reading between the lines of the original press release indicates that the call was part of a broad political position by the NDFB to move away from government intervention in many areas of the economy apart from farm programs, including cap-and-trade and health care:

“As people in this country expect more from the government and less from themselves, our delegates are urging everyone, including farmers, to step away from the public trough and get back to the principles of individual responsibility and initiative,” said NDFB President Eric Aasmundstad….
The only way government can get money is to take it from its citizens. We don’t believe raising taxes to pay for health care or climate change will help our country get out of our economic slump or even improve health care or the environment. And the more they take, the less we have to find the innovative solutions to the problems we face.

He sounds like a Catoite.

To what extent the NDFB’s position flows through to the rest of the farm lobby remains to be seen, so hell hasn’t quite frozen over yet. But this is positive news. At the very least it spells sweet, sweet trouble for long-time free trade nemesis and farm bill supporter Sen. Byron Dorgan (D), who is up for reelection next year.

HT: Chris Edwards.

The Land Is There, the Cubans Are There, but the Incentives Are Not

The Washington Post has an interesting story today on the program of the Cuban government to transfer idle state-owned land to private farmers so they can resurrect the dilapidated agricultural sector on the communist island. As Ian Vásquez and I wrote in the chapter on U.S. policy toward Cuba in Cato Handbook for Policymakers, before this reform, the agricultural productivity of Cuba’s tiny non-state sector (comprising cooperatives and small private farmers) was already 25 percent higher than that of the state sector.

At stake is an issue of incentives. Collective land doesn’t give farmers an incentive to work hard and be productive, since the benefits of their labor go to the government who distributes them (in theory) evenly among everyone, regardless of who worked hard or not. While with private property, “The harder you work, the better you do,” as a Cuban farmer said in the Post story.

The country’s ruler, Raúl Castro, recently declared that “The land is there, and here are the Cubans! Let’s see if we can get to work or not, if we produce or not… The land is there waiting for our sweat.” However, it’s not a matter of just having land and lots of people. It’s also a matter of incentives to produce. Failing to see this, as in the case of Cuba’s failed communist model, is a recipe for failure.

Breaking: Economics 101 Still in Effect

Dairy farmers are working lobbying hard to ensure they get their hands on more of your money.  Apparently, changes made last year to the Milk Income Loss Contract – mainly to take account of rising feed costs – were not enough to stem the losses.

The Senate recently voted to give the USDA an extra $350 million for dairy farmers’ support. The House left dairy support out of its appropriations bill, so the two chambers are working on the compromise now (prediction: the taxpayer will get screwed).

Here’s an ironic quote from a Brownfield news post yesterday (linked to above). It’s Missouri Dairy Association Chairman Larry Purdom on how to bring prices back up:

“Our feeling is that if [USDA] would buy some cheese and product that’s in storage…hanging over our heads, depressing prices,” Purdom tells Brownfield from his farm at Purdy, Missouri, “we feel like the prices would start moving on their own if we didn’t have this surplus.”

More on U.S. dairy policy here.