Are We Listening? Are We Farming Soviet-style?

Northstar Notes

These references to "Soviet-style" farming throw me, just as statements about President Obama and his socialistic policies.

Published on: June 24, 2013

It was a disappointing day for agriculture Thursday when the U.S. House of Representatives voted down the farm bill.

All afternoon, I read emails from various farm organizations and lawmakers, bemoaning the fact that this happened and how horrible it was for U.S. agriculture.

I also received a few statements from organizations on the other side of the issue. They were glad that the bill was defeated.

Here are some snippets from those emails:

-"The saying goes: you reap what you sow – and opportunistic politicians found out the hard way that the massively expensive, subsidy-stuffed, Farm Bill was not a viable crop," said the National Taxpayers Union. It called the "Soviet-style Farm Bill" a "command-and-control boondoggle" and pushed to split the food stamp and farm management portions of the legislation, and delete "wasteful programs" such as the Sheep Industry Improvement Center and the Dairy Market Stabilization Program and reduce crop insurance "windfalls."

-The National Wildlife Federation noted that it "failed commonsense conservation standards" and that the organization would "continue to fight for a farm bill that includes a link between conservation compliance and crop insurance, and a National Sodsaver program." NWF didn't like the bill because it would have "created a new loophole in a longstanding requirement that farmers who receive taxpayer subsidies refrain from draining wetlands or farming erosion-prone soils without a conservation plan – because the bill failed to extend these protections to crop insurance premium subsidies, the largest subsidy farmers receive. This could lead to the draining of 1.5 to 3.3 million acres of wetlands and greatly increased soil erosion and nutrient pollution into our lakes, streams, rivers and coastal waters."

-Heritage Action said the no vote was "a victory for the taxpayer and the free market… The unholy alliance that has long dominated America's agriculture and nutrition policy must end."

Heritage Action supports separating the food stamp program from the farm bill.

"The inclusion of food stamps in the so-called 'farm bill' is purely political," it noted. "…spending four times as much on food stamps as on commodities (and related) programs to pass the latter defies common sense and contributes to the 'logrolling' that Americans resent as typical Washington behavior."

Heritage didn't like the "risky taxpayer-funded programs," such as the expanded crop insurance program (expected to grow to $8.9 billion from 2013 to 2022); the Supplemental Coverage Option and the Stacked Income Protection for Cotton program; "the 'shallow loss' program would protect farmers from virtually all risk."

Heritage concluded that "farmers are currently carrying far less debt compared to their very strong assets. Net farm income is expected to reach 'a remarkable $128.2 billion this year – the highest level since 1973,' making the aforementioned farm programs all but insanity."

And specific to dairy:

-The Dairy Freedom Act amendment to the farm bill, sponsored by Representative's Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and David Scott (D-GA), removed the dairy market stabilization program (supply management) that was supported by Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson.

The Wisconsin Dairy Business Association supported and worked for adoption of the Goodlatte/Scott amendment "because it represented free market reforms to our dairy industry."

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, sent a letter to legislative members "indicating Soviet-style dairy programs are in need of dire reform and urged his colleagues to vote against the Dairy Security Act which included the supply management program."

WDBA noted that if the amendment not been adopted, the DFA would have been more costly, added more government intrusion into an already highly regulated dairy industry, and it would have imposed new and costly regulations on the nation's dairy processors.

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These references to "Soviet-style" farming throw me, just as statements about President Obama and his socialistic policies.

Really? We live in America, folks, where democracy is practiced day in and day out.

I did a Google search about Soviet-style farming in the U.S. and found a post from 2002 from the Heritage Foundation (sister organization to Heritage Action), in regards to the 2002 farm bill. The article was entitled "The Case Against The Farm Bill." One of its points was "The Soviet approach to farm subsidies." It said the 2002 farm bill read like "a Soviet-style five-year plan" because it brought back "centralized planning in agriculture, and will prevent American agriculture from becoming the vibrant, creative, dynamic force needed to compete in 21st century global markets." The article also noted that the bill was "the largest non-defense expansion of the federal government since the Great Society," and that it made no sense.

"Farm policy is based on the premise that a surplus of crops has lowered crop prices too far and farmers need subsidies to recover lost income," the article stated. "However, the federal government's remedy is to offer subsidies that increase as a farmer plants more crops. This creates greater crop surpluses, driving prices down even further and spurring demands for even greater subsidies."

You must admit that the latter makes plenty of sense. The market forces of supply and demand are not at play when a farm bill overreaches and overprotects.

Yet, Americans love their cheap food. And they want it bountiful.

They need to be reminded of that, over and over and over again.

And Soviet-style farming in U.S.?

U.S. farmers are independent businessmen and women who OWN their land and machinery. They take pride in that ownership and work hard to be the best stewards of their natural and man-made resources. They have been rewarded for their efforts and have made the U.S. the most productive country in the world. Under Soviet-style farming, that never happened. Capitalism was not present to encourage competition and innovation.

The very best U.S. agriculture is where it is today because of the freedoms we have and that includes the freedom to farm—conventional, organically, large and small.

As I mentioned before, we live in a democracy and that can get messy. Case in point is this defeat of this farm bill in the House. All voices were heard.

As tough as it is, agriculture needs to take its lumps, regroup and find new common ground.

Good luck.