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Keep the farm program intact until fair trade is achieved

A recent editorial in the Dallas Morning News calls on Texas Senators John Cornyn and Kay Hutchison to back a proposal that would do away with farm subsidies.

Other editorialists across the nation have joined the chorus of those who contend that the U.S. farm program is a waste of taxpayers' money and that subsidies are unfair to trading partners and developing countries trying to get a foothold in farm trade.

I can't deny that some waste seeps into farm programs. It seems to creep into any government program that has significant funds to mete out. And it's more than likely that a few folks who shouldn't receive benefits from farm subsidies do. I wonder, however, at the wisdom of scrapping a program that has served the nation well for decades, providing a consistent supply of economical, safe food and fiber, just because of a little waste and some complaints from other countries that would do well to clean up their own programs before casting aspersions at ours.

But perhaps it is time to do away with U.S. farm subsidies. But before we do we must be assured that international agriculture trade becomes fair. We should do away with subsidies as soon as:

  • China and other developing economic powers abide by trade regulations already in place.

  • Trading partners refrain from using currency devaluation to disguise subsidizing their own agricultural industries.

  • Developing nations allow access to their markets in exchange for the United States eliminating subsidies or tariffs.

  • China and other developing nations create agencies similar to our USDA, OSHA, EPA, and FDA to assure that quality of goods we import is as safe as ours.

  • Trading partners pay decent wages to workers so that trade actually improves their lives. Competing with industries that pay daily what American farmers pay per hour is not fair trade.

  • The European Union and other trading partners refrain from using GMO scare tactics as trade barriers.

  • As soon as Americans are willing to depend on foreign countries for a big percentage of their food and fiber requirements we should give up subsidies.

I've never met a farmer who preferred making his living from government payments. I've met few, however, who have not benefited from the U.S. farm program at one time or another — when prices dipped below break-even or when disaster, in the form of drought, flood or wind, wiped out their crops. Maintaining a program, call it subsidization or whatever, that keeps farmers on the farm is good business for the country and is a wise investment of taxpayer dollars.

It makes sense to eliminate as much waste as possible, to purge the farm subsidy rolls of those who do not merit the assistance and to create the most efficient farm policy possible. But a wholesale scrapping of current programs would be unwise. Too much uncertainty exists in modern agriculture. And until international trade organizations grow enough teeth to assure fair, repeat, fair, trade, farmers will continue to need assistance.

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