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Taking potshots at farmers (while overlooking benefits)

Wow! Farmers have been taking it on the chin, media-wise, here of late. The House farm bill debate has brought assailants out of the woodwork.

“Dead farmers getting subsidies” probably was right at the top in terms of grabbing reader attention.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture paid farm subsidies to 172,801 dead people between 1999-2005,” goes the story about a Government Accountability Office report. “Forty percent of that money went to people who had been dead for at least three years.”

“Time to stop subsidies” headlined another. “If you could tell Congress how to spend $20 billion what would you have them do? … Some members of Congress … want to give the money to millionaires … Instead of continuing with this broken system, Congress should end all farm subsidies.”

Even faraway Australian media weighed in with an article, “U.S. millionaires to receive subsidies under farm bill.” The lead paragraph: “To Australian farmers who barely receive a penny in government subsidies, U.S. politicians have delivered another slap in the face…”

Non-ag groups of every stripe descended on Capitol Hill during the recent House Agriculture Committee proceedings, eager to get in their licks.

“Political expediency trumped ethical responsibility,” one organization spokesperson declared. “Wealthy special interests can only plug the leaks in the dam for so long before the flood of constituents calling for a fair farm bill overwhelms the narrow financial interests of the select few.”

Even the national TV and radio news(?)casts, which usually do farm stories only out of desperation when there's no breaking news (?) about Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, or Britney Spears, have been giving frequent air time to the farm bill debate — more often than not with a negative slant from an anti-ag spokesperson.

An Environmental Working Group representative said on National Public Radio that a farm bill “should build a safety net to help small farmers who need it, not agribusinesses making millions of dollars in profits because of corn and ethanol.”

In another NPR piece, commentator Adam Davidson noted that when a farm bill gets to the Senate there will either be “a battle over deep economic issues or a massive money grab after this huge pork sandwich the farm bill represents.” Other countries, he said, “are very upset” that the U.S. “subsidizes rich farmers at the expense of poor farmers in poor countries.”

Farm program opponents in Congress have missed no opportunity for camera time or print space.

“The farm bill ought to be about helping the family farmer in tough times, not giving million-dollar checks to big farmers, not giving out checks in good times,” said Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.

“It is past time for serious reform … The status quo bill by the Agriculture Committee is not only a lost opportunity for reform, it is a direct threat to the majority of America's farmers and ranchers,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.

And then they go home or to some fancy soiree to partake of the American agricultural bounty they so righteously condemn.

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