As the debate in Congress heats up over the revision and passage of the Farm Bill, the Democratic Congress is trying to find ways to pander and pork-barrel their way to re-election by keeping open the floodgate of subsidies to the farmers in their districts. And as the Democratic Congress asks itself “What changes should we make to the bill?”, I find myself asking: What changes shouldn’t they make to the bill.
The farm bill is one of the best examples of American hypocrisy and pork-barrel politics. It eschews the free market by paying out billions in subsidies, mostly to corporate farms, and depresses the price of everything from corn to soy by allowing farmers to sell their product for less than the cost of production. The farm bill, originally designed to bail out small farmers during the Great Depression, has morphed into a corporate welfare program responsible for converting our once fertile farmlands into toxic monocultures.
So I wonder, is it the votes that Democrats are worried about, or is it the campaign contributions? These days, campaign contributions are the horse before the cart, meaning that a campaign can’t move forward without them. Votes are no longer earned, they are purchased with countless hours of political ads and sloganeering.
If subsidies were so effective, then why has our population of small farmers continued to dwindle over the past 50 years? And why do organizations like the National Family Farm Coalition continue to clamor for a change in policy to protect the family farm, make the market free and fair, and protect the small farmer from the risks of GMO crops?
In general terms, the solution can be distilled in simple terms: sending payouts to small farms has the potential to be beneficial, while channeling subsidies into corporate farms is nothing less than the corruption of our democratic system. Subsidies for family farms shouldn’t be simple government pay-outs, they should instead be public investments in some of the most difficult aspects of small-scale farming. Farmers that make a commitment to diversify their production, get certified organic, and dedicate areas of the farm to wildlife corridors should be given monetary incentives, research grants, and technical assistance.
I can guarantee right now that this simple but effective approach (short on details, to be sure, but with an underlying philosophy diametrically opposed to the current one), won’t receive any recognition, or even lip-service, in the current Congressional debate. Reforming our agriculture may very well require a revolution of sorts.