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Start ‘weaning off’ Uncle Sam now

Many of us in agriculture have grown used to “milking” Uncle Sam via farm-program benefits, disaster payments, even cost-sharing. Do you see these things ending if our government dives deeper into debt? Any advice on how to “wean off”?

Mike Evanish: For the past few decades, Congress has been putting in place programs that help farmers and cost the Treasury less money. Examples: crop insurance, Milk Income Loss Contract and more. In my opinion the budget problems that government is experiencing will quicken the pace of this frugality.

Not all of ag production has a program tied to it, though. Crops without programs tend to be more profitable. So, profits in agriculture are possible without government payments.

The best way to “wean off” the programs? I suggest that you put together a business plan covering the next five to 10 years. The immense amount of work needed to look at new crops and new ways of doing things (on paper) will, in the end, guide you to an “operational philosophy” that’s appropriate for you.

Once settled on, take money from all of the programs that fit that philosophy and ignore the rest. Your long-term goal must be setting up a business that can function without government money, but be able to take all funds that benefit it.

Dale Johnson: Certainly, the federal government can’t balance its budget on the backs of farmers. In fact, it remains committed to food security and “cheap food” policies.

But all types of government spending will take a hit in the future. I just hope that cost-share environmental programs are lower on the hit list.

East Coast farmers near our huge population centers have opportunity to wean off government commodity programs — transition from grain crops to fruits, vegetables and specialty livestock. I’ve been amazed at what some farmers are doing to take advantage of developing trends, such as “buy fresh, buy local,” organics, pastured meats, farmers markets, CSAs, etc.

Recently, a young couple farming a small acreage showed me the computer system setup by the up-and-coming Wegmans grocery store chain to purchase their produce for local stores.

George Mueller: What a powerful question! Our farms are modern businesses. So there’s no justification for government to use tax money from hard-working Americans to subsidize our farming endeavors.

It’s time for our “nanny,” Uncle Sam, to “let go of the seat of our bicycle” so we can learn to compete in domestic and world markets. I think we’ll soon be “peddling” on our own without government subsidies, doing just fine, and be much better off because of it!

Unfortunately, many farmers and farm leaders see nothing wrong with “milking” Uncle Sam. It’s been done for so long that we are beginning to think we are “entitled” to government handouts.

“Weaning” is always a shock to the system. When prices are down, we do every thing possible to squirm our way back to the government “teat.”

Right now, our milk industry leaders have several bills in Congress saying we’re willing to accept quotas on our milk production in return for a subsidy. What a terrible thing this would be if Congress passes such a bill.

Our U.S. dairy industry is one of the most efficient because we have the freedom to expand and innovate. For the first time in my lifetime, world dairy prices are higher than our own, and we can compete.This is a tremendous opportunity! But a quota plan will eliminate our chance to serve this new world market.

My advice: Run the most efficient farm you know how to get through the weaning process. The stress of weaning is short-lived. We’ll find that we can grow just fine on hay and grain without the milk subsidy.

Glenn Rogers: The so-called “milking of the government” must eventually end with all aspects of our society. Our lifestyles are changing.

Demand per person for sugar, fructose corn syrup and dairy products, plus other animal and plant products, could go down per pound of human weight.

How to “wean off”? Use the now-received government payments as retirement and investment funds for nonfarm items. As difficult as this sounds, first calculate how much the “cost-share,” countercyclical, and other governmental payments really are.

Then set that money aside for nonfarm and retirement accounts. Don’t use them in the farming operation. Learn to live without them. Then, when they actually disappear, the “shock” won’t be so evident.

There’s no question that payments will be getting smaller. The quicker you prepare by going to alternative crops and alternative methods, the more you’ll be prepared for it happening.

This article published in the September, 2010 edition of AMERICAN AGRICULTURIST.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.