Needed: a Farm Bill for all

Once every five years at this time, members of the House Agriculture Committee draft a new Farm Bill. Because the committee is loaded with farm-state members, it is strongly inclined to continue the existing program, which heavily subsidizes the growers of five crops—cotton, rice, wheat, soybeans and corn—and offers precious little to other farmers, land conservation efforts, organic production and rural development.

Unless Congress overrides the committee, the result will be yet another welfare bill for rich cotton, rice, wheat, soybean and corn farmers. It will offer little or no support to growers of fruits, nuts and vegetables, despite federal guidelines urging Americans to eat more of them. This is especially relevant in California, which grows half of the country’s specialty crops.

Although California’s agricultural production, at nearly $34 billion annually, is far greater than any other state’s, it receives far less in subsidies. Iowa, for example, produced $16 billion in crops, mostly corn, in 2005 and received $2.24 billion in subsidies. California received $649 million that year.

The current system also tends to benefit corporate growers by giving them additional resources to buy up smaller farms and extend their domination of farm country. The Bush administration has proposed limiting eligibility to farms with adjusted gross incomes of $200,000 or less, a significant reform, but the Agriculture Committee so far has given the proposal a cold shoulder.

As many have noted, spending billions of dollars—$164.7 billion between 1995 and 2005—to subsidize just five crops makes no sense at a time when farming has a complex set of needs. The state of California, for example, has recommended the Farm Bill provide increased funding for plant and animal health programs and specialty crops such as fruits, nuts and vegetables; invest in energy conservation and re-use; streamline the Food Stamp Program, increase trade programs and ag research; and invest in rural development and land conservation.

Local Rep. Wally Herger will be under pressure from local rice growers to continue the program as is. We urge him to stand up to that pressure and support a 2007 Farm Bill that benefits American agriculture as a whole, not growers of particular crops to the detriment of others.