Today's conservative paradox comes to us from this morning's Houston Chronicle
It is not the searing Texas heat, stink bugs or threat of sheath blight worrying rice growers Linda and L.G. Raun. As they gaze over the 1,000 acres of submerged plantings on their farm outside El Campo, Texas, the Rauns are less anxious about natural disasters than what they view as a man-made one brewing 1,400 miles away on Capitol Hill: the farm bill before the US Senate.OK. Let’s stop here for a moment. As a Progressive, I will be the first to admit that just don’t get what makes conservatives tick. I study them as I would any other alien species, but all I get for my troubles is a splitting headache.
"Most farmers are very conservative people," said Linda Raun, whose husband L.G. is a third-generation rice farmer in Wharton County, southwest of Houston.
"We want to do our part in balancing the federal budget. But if you want to continue to have the most affordable, safest food in the world, we need a safety net or folks cannot continue to farm."
When I think about agriculture, I think about conserving our precious and dwindling prime farmland, using only the necessary amounts of water, fertilizer, and pesticides, and ensuring that farming practices are carried out in a manner that protects the surrounding and underlying environment, now and in the future.
But when Linda Raun says that
“Most farmers are very conservative people”,
she probably has something quite different in mind. Politically conservative folks believe that:
The Federal government should play as small a role in their lives as possible. Free markets, unfettered by government intervention and regulation, offer the best environment in which to create jobs and wealth. Business owners like L.G. and Linda know how to run their farm; they don't need the government's help.
Or do they?
Follow along below the logic gap for the rest of the story...
In Washington, the farm bill is a quadrennial ritual in which lawmakers scramble to protect home-state agricultural interests.In other words: our top priority is cutting spending... right after we take care of the folks back home who sent us here to cut spending. Then we can cut spending on everyone else's pet projects.
The politics of farming cuts against the grain of partisanship in Washington. The Senate bill is the result of a compromise between Democrats and Republicans and would save $23 billion over 10 years by switching from direct payments to greater reliance on crop insurance and trimming $4.5 billion by revising the formula for receiving food stamps, a USDA program.In other words, rice growers claim, we're the real victims here. Like the Rodney Dangerfield of agriculture, southern rice farmers get no respect.
Some conservatives such as Texas Rep. Ron Paul, R-Lake Jackson, whose district includes Wharton County, are hostile to any agricultural subsidy. But the dividing line in Congress is less about conservatives vs. liberals than major farm interests based in the Midwest - corn, soybeans and wheat - against those in the South such as rice and peanuts.
"We believe the Senate bill was written for two or three crops and one region of the country,'' said Reece Langley, head of government affairs for the USA Rice Federation. "Rice is losing more than any other crop."
Langley and other rice advocates say that while these programs work well for big soybean, corn and wheat farmers - who enjoy high prices and a federal ethanol mandate for corn, but are more exposed to the vagaries of natural disasters - they don't help rice farmers as much.Well, so much for those awesome free markets that the conservatives love so much.
Because most rice fields customarily are flooded with underground water, they can be less vulnerable to natural disasters.
Compared with other commodities, prices for rice are modest and more subject to fluctuations of the world market.
"Price is our largest risk," Langley said, noting the U.S. produces only 2 percent of the world's rice. "We haven't had high prices like other crops, so if you have five years of low prices and low yields or both, it's going to bring down your level of protection."
Rice farmers are calling for federal payments triggered when prices hit a floor of $13.98 per hundredweight - up from $10.50 under the current direct payment system.Well, that can't be good, especially for conservative farming folks like L.G. and Linda. Reliance on the federal government is just plain wrong, unless of course it's a matter of maintaining a family business and making money. They it's just the way things work. Sure, we have to balance the federal budget, right after we deposit the check.
Opponents say such supports would distort commodities markets and make farmers more reliant on government, not less.
For Linda and L.G. Raun, the cost of production is $1,100 per acre.So, as Linda reminds us:
With the price of rice now at $13.50 per hundredweight, "we are right at our budgeted break-even," Linda Raun said. "Under the proposed Senate plan, if prices stay where they are or if they decline, our operation stands to lose substantially."
She realizes things could be a lot worse. Because of the drought that plagued Texas last year, the Lower Colorado River Authority cut off water to rice farmers. As a result, overall acreage under cultivation this year is down by a third. The Rauns pump water from underground.
Linda Raun, who concludes emails with "have a rice day," remains confident.
"This year, the crops look beautiful,'' she said. "We are hoping for a good yield and a good resolution in D.C."
"if you want to continue to have the most affordable, safest food in the world, we need a safety net or folks cannot continue to farm."Or in other words: keep those checks coming and nobody gets hurt. Why, that almost sounds like something you'd write on a ransom note.
Maybe I should look into this whole subsidy thing myself. I just lost my job, and I'm starting my own business. If I can make a go of it, great. Otherwise, maybe I can get my congressman to sponsor legislation to subsidize my operations. Maybe he'll overlook my Democratic voting record and cut me some slack.
[Note: the poll question should read "Why do people like this consider themselves to be Conservatives?"]