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COLUMN: Farm bill detractors can't see beyond dollars

The legislation overwhelmingly approved by the House and Senate will “increase trade-distorting support for farmers that will harm developing countries,” complained EU spokesman Gregor Kreuz-Huber. “This is what we are fiercely opposed to.”

Hmmm, this from the people who elevated trade-distorting policy to new heights? Who have thrown up every tariff and roadblock possible for U.S. ag products, fought biotech crops tooth and nail? Whose crocodile tears for U.S. “harm” to developing countries are somewhat askew, given their less-than-open door for Third World products?

The EU has indicated it may challenge the U.S. farm payments program before the World Trade Organization, which limits subsidies that member nations can pay to their farmers.

Canada is also unhappy with the new farm bill’s payments provisions and says it may join in a WTO challenge. The country’s agriculture minister termed the U.S. payments “ridiculous policy” that will produce “disastrous results.” He says Canada will consider also increasing payments to its farmers - only problem is, their government doesn’t know where it would get the money.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest, R-Texas, put it all pretty nicely in perspective: “This bill is not for rural Mexico; it’s not for rural Canada; it’s not for rural Europe - it’s for rural America.”

Not unexpectedly, the national and metropolitan media have trotted out their most caustic comments, including the Memphis newspaper’s editorial, “Fertilizing with money,” which laments the farm bill’s cost and drags out the tired refrain that ag payments only “benefit the largest, richest operations.” It would be more palatable, one supposes, if the money went instead to keep in business all the hobby/weekend farmers, who in aggregate produce an insignificant portion of this nation’s food/fiber needs, while backhanding the large farms that produce better than 90 percent of commercial crops?

And would it be churlish to point out that agriculture remains a major part of the Mid-South economy, generating several billion dollars annually, many of which end up in a lot of Memphis stores, restaurants, and businesses, which in turn buy ads in their newspaper?

Agriculture is a perennial whipping boy for the major media, which try and outdo themselves in deriding the sector that makes it possible for Americans to have the best, most abundant, cheapest food on the planet. Some of the recent headlines: “Farm bill is a cash cow: A huge increase in spending, yielding little”; “This terrible farm bill”; “Taxpayers foot farm bill”; etc.

“Congress is on the verge of turning back the clock 50 years in federal farm policy,” said the Washington Post, calling it “a shockingly awful farm bill that will weaken the nation’s finances.” “A regrettable reversion to some of the worst policies of the past – in which small farmers and the environment get short-changed,” said the New York Times. “Would produce a bumper crop of dollars for farm tycoons – while milking taxpayers,” said the Grand Rapids Press.

Sorta brings to mind the bumper sticker: “Don’t cuss the farmer while your mouth’s full.”


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