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Farm bill in limbo: Who might lose subsidies?

agricultureWell, it looks as though no farm bill will be passed by Congress before the Nov. 6 general election, a cause of consternation throughout much of the agriculture industry.

According to this worthwhile MinnPost.com article, there won’t be too many immediate effects, because of stop-gap funding and also that many provisions of a new bill, had it passed, wouldn’t take effect until next year anyway.  So there still is time for Congress to act to renew the five-year legislation which last was updated in 2007.

While we wait, and since the fate of crop subsidies are one of the forefront issues in the crafting of a new farm law, you might want to take a look at whom in your region benefits from existing subsidies.

The Environmental Working Group offers a Farm Subsidy Database that’s searchable by ZIP code, and your readers might find the result of a search quite enlightening.  I live in a suburb of Detroit that adjoins some pastoral areas but is hardly an agricultural mecca, yet a search of just my ZIP code turned up dozens of recipients of the farm subsidy, mostly for corn, wheat and soybean crops.  Some of the names I recognized as local businesspeople who practice trades and professions unrelated to farming. Apparently 40-plus local residents, however, hold enough acreage to get government payments ranging from a few hundred dollars to five-figure amounts.

The database includes figures back to 1995 and drills down to specific programs and crops for each landowner (individual or business) listed.  One local market garden, for example — the kind that sells tomatoes, pick-your-own pumpkin and corn-on-the-cob at roadside stands — apparently dabbles in wheat and soybeans, too, and has reaped disaster assistance and other payments in the six figures.

This information just screams out for an interactive map or other graphic showing the location of farm subsidy recipients and what programs they were helped by.  Clearly these operators will have an opinion on the proposed revisions to the farm bill — including the replacement of subsidies with insurance — and you can use their stories to help illustrate the possible ramifications, pro and con, of an overhaul to the programs.

Another area to look at is state property tax breaks for farmland; I nosed around in my state not long ago and found examples of hobby farms — spreads that were mainly residential but that might have a pet goat or horse or some such and might sell a few hundred dollars worth of produce each year — getting hefty tax breaks.  Check out this editorial from NJ.com on the same topic, it calls for a ban on tax breaks for “fake farms.”

By way of background, here is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s farm bill portal; the USDA’s Economic Research Service also offers a compilation of resources.  This site, FarmBillPrimer, appears to be run by a private citizen and self-described farm bill advocate; keeping in mind her agenda is not objective, it’s still a handy aggregate of a variety of related resources, like an appropriations chart and programs sorted by category and priority.  A number of other advocacy groups, industry groups and other stakeholders also offer their versions of online primers and update sites related to the bill.  And the New York Times also has a handy farm bill channel where related stories are compiled.



In Agriculture, Beats, Economy, Featured, Green | Sustainability, Story ideas.

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