White House Needs to Rethink Federal Support for Farmers

January 31, 2007

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today unveiled the Bush Administration’s proposals for the upcoming renewal of the farm bill, slated for September 2007. The White House provisions would place less emphasis on traditional farm subsidies that are linked to production of certain crops, advocating instead for a move toward revenue assurance programs that guarantee a certain level of farm income – regardless of poor yields or low prices—and a move towards more direct payments that do not distort trade. Tighter payment limits would, according to Secretary Johanns, deliver savings to taxpayers.

“Some of the administration’s proposals are a step in the right direction,” said Cato Institute policy analyst Sallie James. “But the White House needs to look beyond just changing the delivery method of support, or sharing funds with more farmers. It’s time to rethink the very premise of the farm bill – that federal support for farmers should be a given. This year’s farm bill renewal is a chance to enact broad, long-overdue and much-needed reform of a system that has burdened generations of taxpayers and consumers with what is tantamount to a welfare program for farmers. Many recipients of farm support are in fact quite wealthy, and the largest producers receive the lion’s share of federal payments.”

James concludes: “It is high time that U.S. agricultural policy was designed for the broader good of the nation, and not crafted to meet the needs of a self-selected group of special interests.”