Thursday, December 13, 2007

Farm Bill: Subsidies' Harvest of Misery

Congress can still act decisively this year to right a wrong that is hurting both small American farmers and the poorest people on the planet. A long-overdue debate is taking place on reform of the 1933 farm bill, passed during the Great Depression to alleviate the suffering of America's family farmers. I was a farm boy then, and the primary cash crops on my father's farm were peanuts and cotton. My first paying job was working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, measuring farmers' fields to ensure that they limited their acreage and total production in order to qualify for the life-sustaining farm subsidy prices.

Tragically, in its current form this legislation does not fulfill its original purposes but instead encourages excess production while channeling enormous government payments to the biggest producers. This product of powerful lobbyists now punishes small-scale farmers in the United States and is devastating to families in many of the world's least affluent countries.

It is embarrassing to note that, from 1995 to 2005, the richest 10 percent of cotton growers received more than 80 percent of total subsidies. The wealthiest 1 percent of American cotton farmers continues to receive over 25 percent of payouts for cotton, while more than half of America's cotton farmers receive no subsidies at all. American farmers are not dependent on the global market because they are guaranteed a minimum selling price by the federal government. American producers of cotton received more than $18 billion in subsidies between 1999 and 2005, while market value of the cotton was $23 billion. That's a subsidy of 86 percent!

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