Thanks to their influence in Washington, and the iconic status of the American farmer, for decades U.S. agriculture enjoyed a sacred place in the federal budget and received massive handouts from Congress. That may be coming to an end, but not without a fight.
“Farmers and ranchers are willing to do their share, we just don’t want to do more than our fair share,” says Mary Kay Thatcher of the American Farm Bureau. “We compete with farmers around the world and until other farmers and other governments are willing to give up their subsidies, we are unwilling to give up ours.”
Three programs face big cuts: conservation subsides that give farmers money to take marginal lands out of production for wildlife, crop insurance, and direct payments to farmers who plant corn, cotton, wheat, soybean, rice and peanuts. The farmers of these commodities are eligible for government payouts whether they farm or not.
We cannot afford to lavish these subsidies on corporate agribusiness,” says Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “Paying farmers not to farm doesn’t make any sense and neither does giving people money just because they happen to own land where historically there had been farming like direct payments.”
Fruit and vegetable farmers are not entitled to direct payments and some corn farmers who are eligible don’t take them.
“Most corn and soybean farmers would be fine if they went away,” says Steve Pitstick, an Illinois corn farmer. He says the payments date back decades when commodities enjoyed government mandated price supports and farmers got paid when price fell below certain levels. The price supports are gone but the payments survived, thanks to Congress.