Saving money on the Farm Bill

As you know, the U.S. Farm Bill system has evolved over the years from a supposedly temporary measure to help struggling family farmers to one of the starkest examples of broken government and crony capitalism.

  • We know it’s outdated, created during an economic context that no longer exists.
  • We know it’s muddled and mixed with the equally troubled federal Food Stamps system.
  • We know it’s expensive. Just last year’s reauthorization counted for nearly $1 trillion in new spending.

And just recently, the Government Accountability Office brought us more proof of how deeply flawed the system is.

The cost of crop insurance averaged $3.4 billion a year from fiscal years 2003 through 2007, but it increased to $8.4 billion a year for fiscal years 2008 through 2012 . . . subsidies for crop insurance premiums accounted for [about 72 percent] of theĀ  total program costs from 2003 through 2012.

These rising costs have not kept pace with the nation’s economic context. In fact, rising costs have actually been accompanied by rising farm incomes.

As premium subsidy costs increased, farm sector income and wealth indicators also increased. For example, for each year from 2003 through 2012, median farm household income exceeded median U.S. household income. . . on average, median farm household income was . . . 13.8 percent, greater each year than U.S. household income, in constant 2012 dollars. Farm sector income also grew from $73.8 billion in 2003 to $113.8 billion in 2012, in constant 2012 dollars. Farm real estate values, another measure of farm prosperity, increased by 72 percent from 2003 through 2012, in constant 2012 dollars, and farmers relied less on borrowed funds to finance their holdings.

It’s safe to say that most people want to look out for the interests of American farmers. Most people want to care for the nation’s underprivileged. And regardless of ideology, tough choices will have to be made to balance those wants and needs against the realities of our national checkbook.

But beyond the tough choices, there are some obviously easy ones. We should demand that Congress adjust the Farm Bill to reflect the modern economic context and, especially in an age of tough financial choices and budget cutting, stop giving out subsidies to wealthy farmers.