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National Grange Blog: Subsidize or Starve?

By Grace Boatright, National Grange Blog (1/21/11)

  JANUARY 25, 2011 --

The new vow taken by Congress to cut billions from the federal budget has generated some very different responses around Washington. Many believe that reducing government spending when unemployment is at 9.4% and the economy still remains rocky would be counterproductive to the goal of nursing the country to fiscal health. During these debates, an often overlooked expense has suddenly resurfaced: farming subsidies. A recent New York Times article entitled “Here’s an Easy One,” suggested these subsidies are an obvious and “easy” source for cutting spending. The article; however, failed to address the many problems that could arise should this specific spending reduction take place. 

Some of the various arguments against the continuance of farming subsidies include that they are ineffective, waste taxpayer money, and only benefit the large-scale farms that don’t necessarily need the assistance. However, there is a larger aspect to this debate and one that deserves our attention as American consumers of farming products. For starters, this added support for commodity pricing shields against drastic market swings due to unforeseen events. More than other investment securities, commodities such as corn and cotton are subject to the mood swings of both investors and Mother Nature, as are the farmers that grow them. A rapid drop in the price of a commodity could devastate the livelihoods of those that produce them, throwing many growers into bankruptcy, forcing them off their land, and thus leaving farmland vulnerable to further extinction. Consequently, should that circumstance arise, our food supply could become dependent on foreign supplier intervention and subject to much higher prices. 

Matt Espenshade, Grange member and third generation Pennsylvania dairy farmer, made several valid points regarding the issue; “Most of the Farm Bill programs are nutrition programs, not farm programs; and while there are some programs that need a review, you can not underestimate the impact of USDA conservation programs on improving the environmental quality near farmland. Also, young farmer loan programs have benefited farm start-ups, especially in a time when ag lending is so tough. Is there room for improvement? Sure…but the agricultural economy is the foundation of the rest of the economy. Agriculture is a huge investor into local economies. For example, [in Pennsylvania] of each dollar returned to a dairy farm, 85 percent is spent in the local community. Each dairy cow has an annual economic impact of $13,737.” Should these local farmers lose their subsidies, lose their farms, and have to give up their land, a large contributor to local economies could die out, leaving America’s small towns in jeopardy. 

Farming subsidies, while not a perfect system, greatly contribute to the livelihood and economic wellbeing of local communities and the nation at large. The price stabilization they provide ensure stable prices for commodities such as corn, rice, and other consumable goods frequently purchased by the general public. So unless the public would enjoy paying $4 for a gallon of milk one day and $12 the next, some form of farming subsidies should remain in place. 

Grace Boatright
National Grange Program Assistant


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