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Farm commodity subsidies are absurd, so they make great news stories and action alerts. They’re almost always misunderstood, however, and easily lead progressive activists astray.

In the big picture, there’s never been a need for any farm commodity subsidies. Farm commodity prices do not self correct, so prices are usually low in free markets. Subsidies are given to compensate farmers for market failures. That point is almost never mentioned in discussions of farm subsidies.  (Food movement books are of little help, as they rarely provide any of the needed context, such as the failure of markets to self correct, with prices being usually too low, and the fact that subsidies are partial compensations, etc.)

Farm subsidies aren’t needed in the big picture, because we’ve long had the ability to use price floors and supply management to set prices up at “minimum wage” or “fair trade” levels.  (Under these programs, instead of getting subsidies from the government, farmers paid into the program as they pay interest on price floor loans.) The US is price leader and has long had the ability to set world market prices for major commodities.  We’ve chosen to lose money on exports, to dump grain onto world markets at prices that were low or even far below our costs. Pouring our wealth out to foreign buyers (and destroying markets for farmers world wide,) has never made any sense.  OPEC, in contrast, has chosen to raise prices, using their market clout (market share) to make a profit.  The major purpose for losing money has always been to subsidize (secretly, off the books,) the agribusiness output complex, the corporate grain buyers with cheap, below cost farm commodities. A secondary purpose has been to maximize production (overproduce) in order to maximize the land on which the agribusiness imput complex can sell inputs.  A third purpose is to blame farmers, the victims, for the absurdities, while protecting the exploiting corporations from public scrutiny.

The case for farm subsidies is that they’re needed by farmers, including small and disadvantaged farmers, under the absurd farm bills where the US chooses to lose money on exports.

At present we have a huge food movement that is aware that:  1. cheap, below cost corn and other commodities causes or contributes to a large number of problems.  We see this in the new food books and films, and in a huge number of blogs, online videos and related comments. 2. The “Commodity Title” of the farm bill, the part that includes farm subsidies, is the location of the policy program.  That’s a second fact known in the food movement.  The food movement is so big, that the timing is almost excellent for fixing these problems.  

Previously, the family farm movement, the historical leaders on these issues, failed to have sufficient clout to win, and politicians, (specifically the Democratic Party) dropped the issue.  This happened prior to the 2002 farm bill, when Iowa Senator Tom Harkin became chairman of the Senate agriculture committee. All of the leading Democratic Senators and Representatives (ie. Paul Wellstone, Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt, Dennis Kucinich,) then switched their support to a (somewhat greened up version of the) Republican “Freedom-to-Farm” type farm bill.  Freedom-to-Farm provided for “decoupled” subsidies.  Decoupling refers to separation of farm subsidies from ideologically imagined farm planting decisions. It’s a bogus theory, but has had a huge influence on politicians, as it gives them an imaginary excuse for caving in to corporate influence (low farm prices for corporate buyers).  The excuse has played very well in the media, which has never accurately covered this story.  

Freedom-to-Farm failed drastically almost immediately. The Republican plan, (like progressive farm subsidy “reforms” today,) was to eliminate the new subsidies and leave farmers at the mercy of free markets that don’t self correct, that usually leave farmers with low prices, that usually lead to the US losing money on farm exports. The spin was directly opposite of the facts (ie. data on inelasticity, the lack of price responsiveness in markets on both supply and demand sides; the record of farm bill in history related to this; data from Canada, Mexico, and Australia where subsidies were eliminated; data from major econometric studies:  see “Michael Pollan Rebuttal;) that this would lead to prosperity.  As a result of this extreme Republican failure, four emergency farm bills were passed in four years to increase, rather than decrease, the subsidies.  Meanwhile we had the lowest farm market prices in history 1998-2005 (adjusted for inflation , ie. 8 of the lowest 10 corn prices, going back to 1866, lower even than the Great Depression).

Direct Payments, the original Republican Freedom-to-Farm subsidies, are among the most absurd subsidies of all, so the case for why farmers need them is more difficult to make than with Loan Deficiency Payments (LDP) and Counter-Cyclical Payments (CCP).  Direct Payments are given to farmers whether they need them or not, so they best represent the Republican ideal of decoupling. Direct Payments were widely supported, either directly or indirectly, during work on the 2008 farm bill.  The popular language at that time was a call for “farm subsidies that do not distort trade.”  That was code language for sticking with Direct Payments instead of LDP and CCP subsidies, and it was based upon the ideology of decoupling. Decoupling subsidies were said (by free traders) to not distort trade.  This language was supported, for example, by the National Corn Growers Association, (not to be confused with the American Corn Growers Association!), Bread for the World, and the Religious Working Group on the Farm Bill.  

The case for farm subsidies, including Direct Payments, for the 2012 farm bill, is that, while they’ve never been needed except as compensations for bad farm bills, and while the huge food movement is now opposed to bad farm bills, there is almost no factually correct discussion of these issues in the food movement today.  As a result, there is little political support for effectively fixing the farm bill. There is little chance that the food movement will oppose cheap corn (etc.) in work on the next farm bill.  There is little chance of factually correct opposition to cheap corn, that  is.  There will, of course, be massive false advocacy, in support of cheap corn (mere subsidy reforms with no price floors and supply management), but assumed to be opposed to it (ie. opposed to subsidies, as though, contrary to the evidence identified above, subsidy removal will raise the prices of farm commodities).

Without the political possibility of raising price floors, (ie. given the failure of the food movement to correctly advocate on the basis of it’s own values,) progressives must support farm commodity subsidies.  The lack of price floors (the absurd situation where subsidies are needed,) hurts family farmers, (including organic farmers and disadvantaged or minority farmers).  In the short run, since there is little hope of correct reforms, farmers need subsidies to buy time and keep in business.  The hope is that by the next farm bill after 2012, the food movement will stop supporting the very agribusinesses that they sometimes aggressively oppose (ie. start supporting price floors and supply management).  At that time, on the basis of whatever family farmers still remain in business, the US farming system can begin to be correctly reformed and healed.

A key category of information left out of the current barrage of criticism against Direct Payments is that there were no cost of production increases in subsidy triggers in the 2008 farm bill.  Meanwhile, production costs have risen dramatically. What that means is that LDP and CCP subsidies are now not given until farm market prices fall much farther below the cost of production than was the case in 2002.  What this means is that the stage has been set for a massive farm depression.  Subsidy increases, including Direct Payments, are needed to prevent massive damage to the US farm system, should farm prices fall.  

Here are the specifics.  In the 2002 farm bill, the trigger for CCP trigger for corn was set down at $2.60 (2002-03), and later $2.63 (2004-07).  In the 2008 farm bill the CCP trigger for corn was kept down at $2.63, with no cost of production increase.   (The formula for the subsidies is 85% of historical “program” acres x [lower] historical yield x amount below trigger, [ie. 10¢/bu if prices fall below $2.60 to $2.50] up to a maximum of about 40¢/formula bushel [40¢ below the trigger at $2.23]). Next, in the 2002 farm bill, the trigger for LDP trigger for corn was set down at $1.98 (2002-03), and later lowered to $1.95 (2004-07).  In the 2008 farm bill the LDP trigger for corn was kept down at $1.95, with no cost of production increase.  (See other crop comparisons for CCP and LDP in “2008 Farm Bill Side-By-Side.”)  Meanwhile 2002 costs of production for corn were in the $2.55-$3.04 range, while 2011 costs were in the $3.87-4.50 range, an increase of about 50%.  Meanwhile Direct Payments were lowered (in formulas, from 85% of program acres to 83.3%). In short, in 2011 corn prices now would have to fall an additional $1.40 below the cost of production (compared to 2002) before any compensatory subsidies are given.  Short of that, CCP and LDP subsidies were effectively eliminated in the 2008 farm bill.

The progressive movement, the progressive media, the food movement in particular, and the mass media failed recently to understand the dairy crisis and address the needs of dairy farmers, in direct contrast to their professed principles.  In the 1990s, (when the food movement was much smaller,) they failed to understand and advocate effectively during the hog farming crisis (8¢/lb hogs).  Each of those crises was devastating to farmers.  As with these crucial failures of progressive advocacy, if these and similar groups also fail to prevent a general farm crisis after the current period of somewhat higher prices, the massive damage to the family farm alternative will also be very difficult to fix. That’s why increased support for farm commodity subsidies is so crucial today.  Direct Payments, in particular, are one subsidy farmers can get, even if farm prices fall only $1.30 below the cost of production, under the absurd farm policies of today.

Originally posted to Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 07:23 AM PDT.

Also republished by Sustainable Food and Agriculture and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (29+ / 0-)

    "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

    by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 07:23:13 AM PDT

    •  Thanks for all of the discussion, and also (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ybruti, opinionated

      thanks for all of the discussion at my previous blog with the obnoxious title.  You proved that here at Daily Kos, these issues can really get discussed.  I've not found such willingness to look at these issues anywhere else.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 02:49:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The original intent was lost when (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Amber6541, opinionated

        they were given to Conglomerate farms....Now we have the speculators--which changes the whole equation---The food shortage and the price of wheat can be laid at the feet of Wall Street!

        •  Tyson and Smithfield each got $2.5 billion (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Tuba Les, opinionated

          in below cost gains (sometimes called implicit subsidies,) and that doesn't include the benefits they got from Congress lowering price floors prior to it going below production costs (reductions below fair trade levels) which are much higher.  That's five times larger, for each corporation, than the largest co-op (representing thousands of farmers) in EWG's farm subsidy database.

          The original intent of farm subsidies was to cover up facts like this, and family farm activists have always opposed subsidies for this reason.  You too should oppose the 5x larger benefits to Tyson and Smithfield (and much larger ones to Cargill and ADM). Note that Tyson, Smithfield and many others have shown no ned for their much bigger benefits, but subsidies have been given only in cases of massive reductions below the fair trade farm price levels that Congress set in the past.  Subsidies have always been compensations for massive pro corporate farm price reductions.  Meanwhile the corporate grain buyers that benefit have repeatedly shown record profits and returns on equity.

          To oppose these larger exploitations you must favor price floors and supply management.  If you don't, you're on the wrong side.  Mere subsidy reforms don't affect these much bigger benefits in any practically significant way.

          "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

          by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 05:45:38 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Would means testing direct subsidies to those most (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Tuba Les

            ...in need while creating an incentive to fix the pricing and controls?  

            Eliminate the Bush tax cuts Eliminate Afghan and Iraq wars Do these things first before considering any cuts

            by kck on Wed May 18, 2011 at 06:36:27 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  With adequate price floors there's no need for (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              kck

              any subsidies.  The National Family Farm Coalition has suggested ways to better target the benefits here.

              "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

              by Iowa Farm Activist on Thu May 19, 2011 at 06:43:19 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  farm subsidies are crap (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      PrahaPartizan, tgrshark13, wishbone

      and i bet you benefit from them directly

      •  Zero price floors: that's crap. Subsidies are (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Tuba Les, JayinPortland, opinionated

        crap too, but they're much smaller in significance.  They hide the lack of price floors and supply management and lack of topside price ceilings and reserve supplies.

        You can look me up in the farm subsidy database.  But you might also look at USDA-ERS net returns, which added up to below zero vs full costs every year 1981-2006 (except 1996) for a sum of the so called "favored" crops (price x production:  corn, wheat, cotton, rice, soybeans, grain sorghum, barley and oats). That's excluding subsidies.  5 of these crops were evaluated with subsidies included, and all 5 netted below zero overall even with subsidies.  This isn't mentioned anywhere I've seen in EWG's analysis of the farm subsidy data  nor is the part about price floors, nor is the part about benefits to Tyson, Smithfield, Cargill, ADM, Kelloggs.

        I'll bet you benefited from eating the foods that farmers lost money on for a quarter century.  You got subsidized by our farm.

        "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

        by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 05:55:06 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  What about mortgage subsidies (0+ / 0-)

        Do you benefit from those at all, yourself?  Or education subsidies, or, ...?

    •  Helping farmers after crop failure? That's OK. (0+ / 0-)

      Especially after a regional catastrophy.

      Subsidizing farmers because they're losing money? I'm not sure.

      Paying farmers to not plant crops? Absurd.

      •  Supply management is not absurd if you know (0+ / 0-)

        the facts about how farm commodities lack price responsiveness.  It's absurd for the US to ignore this and lose money on exports for decades, and dump on Least Developed Countries.  But it doesn't have to be paid. Farmers really need and want a price in the marketplace, not subsidies.

        Ignoring the basic economic facts just to secretly subsidize the giant grain and cotton buyers (even at the multibillion level annually, far far beyond the largest multi-year recipient of compensatory subsidies in EWG's database) with below cost commodities even as they make record profits over and over, that was absurd.

        Destroying the agriculture industry in the US for these reasons is absurd.  As I said, we need to wake up to these economic realities and replace subsidies with price floors.  Instead the huge food movement doesn't even understand the issue (their own top policy issue, cheap corn etc.?) so farmers need raises in subsidies.

        "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

        by Iowa Farm Activist on Thu May 19, 2011 at 06:51:13 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Why do you think its absurd? (0+ / 0-)

        I'm curious.

        •  Every farmer should be planting something. (0+ / 0-)

          Even if it's corn for ethanol.
          And there's a hungry world out there and there's always something that consumers somewhere will buy.

          •  There may be a lot of hunger in the world (0+ / 0-)

            but none of it -- zero -- is due to a shortage of food, anywhere in the world.  Where hunger does exist, it is due to lack of income, i.e., to the political/economic means to obtain enough of the food that is in quite high abundance.

            Because farming is a long term venture, a life vocation really, it isn't the kind of business where people can shut down their farm and move to the city when prices are too low and then move back again and start farming when prices are high.  For that reason, it is economically necessary for the rest of society to pay farmers to stay on their land even in years where they shouldn't plant all their acres.  If they didn't, then then small farmers would be forced to leave the land and only a few very large farms would remain -- pretty much what all progressives claim to hate.  Far subsididies, including paying farmers not to plant, is what has slowed the gradual decline in farm numbers.  In countries where this does not happen, only a few large, latifundia-type farms tend to dominate.  

            In the US, in fruits and vegetable production, which don't receive subsidies, this is also the case.  Almost all of fruit and vegetable production in America today comes from a few very large, truly corporate farms, while in corn and other crop farming, the farmers are still mostly small businesspeople.  A lot of that can be attributed to the price supports that farmers have received.

  •  The only things needed to keep food prices down (14+ / 0-)

    are to stop using food to produce ethanol and to regulate and limit food commodity trading.  Most of the governmental subsidies to the food production industry go to a handful of highly profitable large farms that would do just fine without them.

    New favorite put-down: S/he's as dumb as a flock of Sarah Palins

    by sleipner on Wed May 18, 2011 at 07:31:55 AM PDT

    •  Farm subsidies went askew before either (6+ / 0-)

      ethanol or commodity trading. If "highly profitable" farms can do without subsidies, move them away from the  feeding trough.

      "The people I distrust the most are those who want to improve our lives but have only one course of action" Frank Herbert

      by the fan man on Wed May 18, 2011 at 10:46:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Or, you know, stop feeding grain to livestock. (8+ / 0-)

      It's insane for us to be feeding millions of tons of grain (grown with fertilizer/pesticide/irrigation) to livestock so we can continue to consume vast amounts of meat, which is so deleterious to both our health and that of the environment.

      Meat should be a grass-fed luxury consumed only on special occasions, not the current source of a huge fraction of American caloric intake.

      •  well, that would really affect... (0+ / 0-)

        ...the amount of livestock raised.  Even less industrialized, more traditional, farming techniques employ the use of grain to raise livestock.

        You talk about a revolt in food prices- that would really cause one.

        •  I like the idea of 'true cost' pricing. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          sleipner, PrahaPartizan, kck, flowerfarmer

          If the price of a pound of beef truly reflected the cost of producing it (including loss of irreplaceable "mined" water being pumped from shrinking aquifers to irrigate the corn used to fatten the cattle, the relentless loss of topsoil, the rise of lethal antibiotic resistant bacteria due to the antibiotics in the feed, the greenhouse gas cost of bovine methane etc.), then perhaps I could get behind letting the Holy Market set prices.

          Instead we have huge taxpayer subsidies of beef (and chicken and pork) production at virtually every step in the process. Taxpayers are subsidizing the escalating destruction of farmlands, while suffering the health consequences of eating far too much meat at the other end of the factory farm assembly line.

          •  wow. you said a lot. (0+ / 0-)

            but seriously, you are concerned about important things.  But to insist that government action or inaction is to blame for all of these problems is a bit dramatic.

            Sure, "true cost pricing" is a nice idea.  But the financial world does not work that way; I understand that we could structure all of our taxation practices to finicially build in those costs.  I am not convinced, however, how really feasible that is.  It is probably feasible in some instances, but not in most.

            Quite honestly, farming does, at its base level, convert stored resources into resources that we can eat.  We can not escape that dilemma unless we stop living.  It requires water, soil, fertilizer of some types, and sunlight to power the whole process.

            •  Government is responsible for huge parts (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              d, kck

              of this, not everything. Farm commodity markets do not self correct.  Price floors and supply management have usually been needed for the US to make a profit on these farm exports.  It's foolish and contrary to business values to throw this wealth away, as we have under Congressional policies and programs for nearly 60 years.  And we're the largest farm commodity exporter in the world.  Corn and oil were EACH $2.16 in 1946.  Corn "skyrocketed"  they say to $4.06 in 2008 (marketing year, or $4.20 for 2007), while oil went up to $91.48.  Congress chose to lower corn prices, and we lost money on exports for decades, (no where near to fair trade prices).  OPEC chose to make a profit, (far above what would be fair trade levels for corn).

              "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

              by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 06:14:20 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  with price floors set at fair trade levels, and (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            d, kck, flowerfarmer, gzodik

            with adequate supply management, grassfed livestock would have been able to compete much better, we'd have more pastures and hay ground and less plowing up of fragile lands. It's a way of paying much closer to true costs, and eliminates a variety of bad farming practices.

            The biggest "subsidy" to beef is the lack of fair trade price floors.  Tyson poultry factories and Smithfield hog factories each got more than 5 times the amount of the biggest co-op in the farm subsidy database, and in fewer years.

            "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

            by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 06:03:31 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  It all depends on your goal. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      socal altvibe

      If your concern is to keep grain prices down, then the current system works well for you.

      If your concern is for average family farmers to be able to be part of the middle class, and not part of the working poor, then the current system does not work well.

      It is very similar to manufacturing.  If you want cheap shoes, then the current system is great; if you want your neighbor or yourself to be middle class, live in the U.S., and work at a shoe factory, then the current system is tragic.

    •  Food grains have subsidized consumers more (4+ / 0-)

      than the other way around. We once had fair trade grain prices, because we had price floors and set them accordingly. If you take the lowering of the price of corn x acres x yield, then farmers are behind by about $1.5 trillion, vs what, $200 billion in subsidies to compensate for the losses.  On the other hand, have you ever supported grain and cotton price ceilings and reserve supplies?  If not, why not?  Because you've never heard of them from your sources of info?  Learn more at my "Farm Bill Primer" at zspace.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 01:02:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  yes, given that ethanol is a rip off (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Coastrange

      and it costs more to operate a vehicle with it than with pure gas. In the other way the price of FOOD AND GAS both are down. Some states are doing a defacto monopoly forcing customers to BUY ethanol, with no other choice.

      •  And yet ethanol, to some extent, has helped (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        gzodik

        stop the US from losing money on corn exports, and has helped end export dumping on LDC countries, which are 70% rural.  The "undernourished" are 80% rural.  Our dumping of below cost grain for a quarter century (below fair trade levels for nearly 60 years) was a major factory in their poverty, their undernourishment.  

        "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

        by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 06:18:28 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  But that doesn't alter the fact that corn-based (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          emptythreatsfarm, Coastrange

          ethanol is a terrible fuel.  It's awfully inefficient, and exists with its current profile only because of the preexisting corn subsidy, no?

          I don't want a solution that simply reverses course and allows dumping with a resumption of impoverishing those in other nations, but we can't let that be a reason to continue pretending that corn ethanol is a good idea.

          •  If we'd kept our higher corn prices ethanol (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Leftcandid

            would not have taken off as it did.  No we don't want to waste time on wasting energy to create little energy in return.

            "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

            by Iowa Farm Activist on Thu May 19, 2011 at 06:55:27 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Not to mention (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Leftcandid

            mandated quantities of ethanol and, I believe, ethanol production subsidies on top of the farming subsidies.

            Switch-grass and yard waste biodiesel has a lot more potential, both in energy return and as a fuel, but unfortunately little emphasis and support has been provided for fast-tracking it.  Though it is not a green fuel, it's at least renewable, and theoretically scalable to the level needed until truly green power sources can be developed.

            New favorite put-down: S/he's as dumb as a flock of Sarah Palins

            by sleipner on Thu May 19, 2011 at 07:48:17 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  There are increased problems with ethanol (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              eastsidedemocrat, Leftcandid

              from stems and not seeds like corn. Organic University teachers at the MOSES conference recommended to us not to sell stems in organic production, as it's too hard to fertilize to replace the lost nutrients.

              "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

              by Iowa Farm Activist on Thu May 19, 2011 at 11:17:00 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  I think you're exaggerating a bit (0+ / 0-)

            Is ethanol a great fuel? No. At least not yet.  But it is much cleaner than gasoline pollution-wise and produces a somewhat lower carbon footprint, and it is improving in both respects almost daily as the technology for producing it improves.  

            •  It doesn't really produce a lower carbon footprint (0+ / 0-)

              considering that corn is grown with petroleum-based fertilizers, then transported and processed into ethanol via petroleum-based methods.  Finally, you need more of it, because it has a lower fuel economy than gas across the board.  

              So while it burns cleaner at the end, the results are much more mixed than they need to be.

              Ethanol can be a good fuel, when made via more efficient sources, like Brazil's sugarcane, or waste biomass.  Butanol is substantially more efficient to produce and consume than ethanol and can be used straightup in gasoline engines.   Biodiesel from very efficient sources like algae or hemp is even better, because a diesel engine is substantially more fuel efficient than a gasoline engine of similar horsepower, and provides extra torque.

              •  Ethanol, even from corn (0+ / 0-)

                is a significantly lower carbon footprint than the alternative of 100% gas.  Although it is true that sugar produces ethanol more efficiently in terms of fossil fuel inputs than corn, this does not mean that corn is inefficient -- just that sugarcane is marginally better.  However, sugarcane is unable to provide for ethanol fuel needs mostly because of its other uses -- as sweeteners.  Brazil, for example, would be unable to signficantly increase sugar ethanol exports to the US because it use is already tapped out for sweeteners and it would have to plow down the Amazon and its natural Savannah to increase production of sugarcane -- a carbon-increasing development, not decreasing.

      •  Actually that's not true (0+ / 0-)

        It costs a bit less, on average to uses ethanol blended fuel rather than pure gasoline.  Now that the infrastructure is in place to blend and distribute ethanol, that fixed cost is no longer part of the price, and you'll find at the pump, even after accounting for the lower mileage, an ethanol blend in more economical.

    •  Commodity trading takes delivery... (0+ / 0-)

      the speculators do not!   They just trade a contract-- no longer even paper...driving the price --just like oil!

      Do not be naive...

      •  And yet, so far, farm prices haven't risen (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        gzodik

        very high.  Recent prices (yearly averages) for corn, wheat and rice, 2007-2009, do not make the top 75% of prices (adjusted for inflation), with one small exception.

        Speculation is getting lots of press, but it hasn't been nearly as devastating as the lack of price floors and ceilings and supply management, including reserves.   Plus these policies put a floor under and lid over speculation.

        "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

        by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 06:22:25 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Um, no. (0+ / 0-)

      Food prices have been higher in the past when food commodity trading was very tiny and there was no ethanol.  Most analysis has shown that ethanol contributes only 1%-3% of the interest in retail food prices.

  •  I Don't Get This (15+ / 0-)

    It is the farm states which most support so-called 'free trade' on the basis that they need access to those markets and because they need to compete 'on a level playing field in the free market' -- yet at the same time they howl and scream when somebody talks about taking their subsidies away.

    I won't be coming home tonight, my generation will put it right - Genesis 9:3

    by superscalar on Wed May 18, 2011 at 07:44:10 AM PDT

    •  The family farm movement in Iowa and (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sanglug, gzodik

      elsewhere has never supported free trade. We've also never called for Republican Freedom to Farm subsidies. This blog calls for eliminating all subsidies, except all of these people harping about farm subsidies don't know how the issue works in the real world, and don't know the politics of it.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 01:07:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  asdf (17+ / 0-)

    I find this diary confusing, but that's probably just me.  I'll re-read it and try to get a better understanding.

    What I don't see is any consideration of limiting the size of subsidies, to cut off subsidies to corporate farms.  

    This part should be bolded:

    We’ve chosen to lose money on exports, to dump grain onto world markets at prices that were low or even far below our costs. Pouring our wealth out to foreign buyers (and destroying markets for farmers world wide,) has never made any sense.

    It doesn't make sense to a sensible person.  Just another example that "the rich (and powerful) are not like you and me".

    I am become Man, the destroyer of worlds

    by tle on Wed May 18, 2011 at 07:45:41 AM PDT

    •  It's not just you. (11+ / 0-)

      I have a vague feeling I should agree with the diarist, but he's always writing at a level above me on the subject, and I really lack the 'fire in the belly' to plow through enough background to really understand how plausible the arguments are.

      •  Easier (6+ / 0-)

        It is centralization for the benefit of the few v decentralization for the benefit of the many...

        Ag
        Energy
        Media
        Politics
        Transportation

        You can drill into any of those categories above, and find sub categories where the same principles exist...

        "Cloud Computing" isn't mainframes cause it has that nice name "cloud"

        Where is my data?
        A. In the cloud-  
        No; really, where is my data?  
        A. In the cloud...  
        Okay, so can I talk to the leader of the cloud?  
        Nope-  Your cloud provider evaporated into thin aire  where your data exists... We bought them-  Care to create some new data in our cloud?

        Evidence that contradicts the ruling belief system is held to extraordinary standards, while evidence that entrenches it is uncritically accepted. -Carl Sagan

        by RF on Wed May 18, 2011 at 10:31:58 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well said. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RF, allie123

          And I like the cloud computing exchange.  It's like "The Internet"; it's all distributed, except when everything goes through a pitiful few hubs.

          I am become Man, the destroyer of worlds

          by tle on Wed May 18, 2011 at 10:54:03 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The cloud has it's place- (3+ / 0-)

            I run a "cloud" at a few clients site for app and desktop virtualization... Benefits abound, but the data is still in a place where the client can sleep at nite...

            Off-Site backup thru Mozy for another client works well for them...

            The larger clients still send backup tapes off-site with real people...  They pay people and do folks taxes and their books...  They have been pitched the cloud, and when I tell them pros and cons, the two controlling ladies of the business always side with "do it here; on-site" "please"

            So I remind them how much I cost, and that the cloud will be cheaper and the response iswas:  SMB Owner1 "So... what happens when we cannot access our data?"  SMB Owner2 "We go under!"

            To be fair; these ladies dealt with one hell of an ice storm in the nineties where they had to scoop water from their pool to flush toilets for more than ten days, among other things...  Folks in the city twenty miles away were fine; while I ran the site with a 1.6KW HOnda generator; that the one laser printer would make convulse every time a print job went off...  They now have a 20Kw backup gen and a 600lb propane tank in case things get real dicey...  

            Those two women are smarter than any of the politicians making decisions that are influenced by the money centralization provides...

            Evidence that contradicts the ruling belief system is held to extraordinary standards, while evidence that entrenches it is uncritically accepted. -Carl Sagan

            by RF on Wed May 18, 2011 at 11:15:49 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  That's how we set up our systems for clients too. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              RF

              Everything run locally, with offsite backups, so that if something cut them off from the outside world, everything still worked other than maybe the external website, but they still had all of their data and internal site still available, and in case of local disaster, they could access an offsite backup.

        •  I don't understand this cloud stuff, but (0+ / 0-)

          the real world of farm policy is thoroughly clouded in mystification.  That's why this article looks so strange.  But remember, I'm just the messenger.  I didn't support of vote for the Freedom to Farm act (1996), or the 2002 and 2008 farm bills. The food movement and most progressives have been lost in these clouds.

          "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

          by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 01:12:27 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Why don't you try and backup this statement? (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            martinjedlicka, wishbone
            The food movement and most progressives have been lost in these clouds.

            Why don't you try and "demystify" your diary in words that can be understood...

            Why do I have a hard time believing your really an Iowa Farm Activist?

            I live in decentralized farm country on the border of NHVT where the fertile soil is not being lost every year by bad farming practices...

            D'Kos  community is very fair, and open minded, but I for one will piss in your messkit, if you do not backup statements like:

            The food movement and most progressives have been lost in these clouds.

            Evidence that contradicts the ruling belief system is held to extraordinary standards, while evidence that entrenches it is uncritically accepted. -Carl Sagan

            by RF on Wed May 18, 2011 at 01:52:09 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Thanks for bringing this right out (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              tle

              I'm presenting a different paradigm, with some different, largely unknown (to the food movement) facts and explanations. I think that's one reason it's so challenging for me and for readers at Daily Kos.  I've been provocative, as it's very frustrating to not have people willing to discuss this in many  places, but for me Daily Kos has been the best.

              My clouds comment was an attempt to respond to what I thought people may be saying about me.  I am arguing that the food movement has a false paradigm and misunderstands key issues (farm bill commodity title, ie. subsidies, price floors).

              I share the values of the food movement, and like much of the work.  This is the only issue category where I think they're wrong (if you include the international implications). On your specific request/challenge, perhaps these sources can help:

              Here are 25online examples of the global (food crisis) aspects of what is being missed and part of my response to them to illustrate that the criticisms I make are widespread.  I should do the same on farm subsidies beyond my written reviews (next paragraph).

              I've written a number of food movement reviews where I document my concerns.  Some are linked (scroll down) under "Movement/Media Reviews" here.  I have several video reviews which show excerpts from food movement films which can also be found (links to YouTube) at that link.

              I've also made comments on videos at You Tube.  Search FireweedFarm and names of food movement leaders such as "Marion Nestle" "Michael Pollan" "Daniel Imhoff" "Robert Kenner" but some may be buried.  (Use correct spellings.)

              "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

              by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 06:50:19 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  If you've ever been to IA (0+ / 0-)

              you'd see that the fertile soil is not being lost there either, or at least not much, if any, more than in VT or NH. That's a myth taken way out of context.  I think what Iowa is really saying is that the progressive movement seems to believe everything they read that is critical of production agriculture without putting the least effort into seeing what kinds of farmers in the heartland are doing things right and how can we help them istead of just throwing everything out because of some knee-jerk reaction (which is really a right-wing narrative) that all subsidies are bad and all guys who drive big tractors and grow corn are part of the problem.

      •  The great organizers say to go with the people (0+ / 0-)

        with the fire in the belly. We did farm credit organizing, saving farms with the community reinvestment act.  The farmers made a vigorous movement.  We've fought against the same kinds of concerns as the food movement for decades. It matters.  We lost hog farmers in the 90s with 8¢/lb hogs.  We've recently been losing dairy farmers.  As I wrote in the blog, if we have a quarter century of low prices after this price rise,. like we had after the 70s, it will be too late to achieve food movement goals.  We have the movement, but it's misinformed about some key issues,. mainly related to subsidies.  That's why it's so hard for me to explain it and you to learn it.  There's so much to correct.  

        "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

        by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 06:29:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Government subsidies to agriculture = (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      HeyMikey, YucatanMan, majorityvoice

      low cost grain exports to China =
      reduced cost to feed the Chinese labor force =
      reduced cost of manuafacture for Chinese industry =
      reduced cost of Chinese exports =
      inablity/reduced ability of American industry to compete =
      American jobs shipped overseas!

       

      •  You're close but wrong on this. But yes, (0+ / 0-)

        Reagan "subsidized" the "evil empire" with below cost grain.  Your arguments are great except that subsidies do NOT cause the low prices, as I prove 4 ways in "Michael Pollan Rebuttal."

        Ok, so the absence of price floors (or in the past, price floors set too low) cause the situation you describe. They also cause subsidies.  Subsidies came later, after price floors had been lowered for years, and subsidies only partially compensated farmers for the reductions.  

        "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

        by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 01:29:44 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  of course this is counter intuitive, because (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sanglug, d, tle

      the needed perspective, (total subsidy elimination WITH adequate price floors and ceilings and supply management, including reserve supplies, the Harkin-Gephardt Farm Bill Congress voted on in 1985, and today's Food from Family Farms Act) is largely forgotten.  I'm attempting to address this current issue from within this broader context of what's needed, PLUS from the context where food progressives misunderstand progressive Democratic farm policy.  The needed policies were reduced from 1953-1995 and then totally eliminated with Freedom to Farm.

      It's probably not just you.  

      Thanks for your thoughtful response.

      Limiting the size of subsides is largely a false issue, in that the farm programs grew out of market management (of all production,) and were not temporary anti-poverty programs for poor people.  The market management policies (listed above) were ended to provide cheap grain to US and foreign processors. The exploiters are largely not farmers, even large farmers.  They're, first and foremost, agribusiness buyers of grain, cotton, etc.  Limiting subsidy size does nothing to address this exploitation.  The buyers have had no "need" determination to be subsidized with cheap, below cost grain.  They've made record profits, record returns on equity, over and over again.  Big farmers, in contrast, have always received subsidies as only partial compensations for Congress' decision to lower farm market prices.  At no point have the subsidies come anywhere close to making up for what has been reduced.  That, of course, is never mentioned by food progressives outside of the family farm movement.  Thus you've never heard of basic facts like this?  Thus, confusion.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 01:24:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'll confess- I skipped to the ending (0+ / 0-)

      and I am still confused.

      I'll wait for the Cliff Notes ;)

      •  Cliff Notes Version: We've never really needed to (0+ / 0-)

        pay farm subsidies to farmers, because we already had ways to pay them from the market place (traditional Democratic farm policies and programs:  New Deal Price Floors and ceilings and supply management).

        Price floors were lowered, more and more, which has been devastating to farmers.  Subsidies were added later to partly compensate farmers for the lower income from lower price floors.  We really need a return to Democratic policies.  The Harkin-Gephardt farm bill of the 1980s was one attempt.

        (Note:  price floors are needed because farm prices don't self correct, and have usually been too low.  When there's oversupply, (ie. of rice and wheat,) consumers don't eat much more, and farmers don't plant much less, so it doesn't fix itself.)

        The food movement shows little or no knowledge of this situation.  It's big enough to really do work on these issues, but that can't happen if the needed policies are unknown.  Short of that, until we can get the food movement correctly on board, farmers need subsidies.  Subsidies were greatly reduced in the last farm bill (vs. much higher costs).  Therefore we need increases in subsidies to help family farmers survive until the movement can be educated.

        "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

        by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 06:58:58 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I'm not seeing (16+ / 0-)

    what sets farms apart from any other business in an entitlement to subsidies.  Market variables and unanticipated loss could be addressed by futures markets and insurance.  If the strongest argument for subsidy is to correct problems created by the various "farm bills" . . . why not just repeal them instead?

    I'll confess to being no more enchanted by the myth of the "family farm" than I am by the "neighborhood cobbler" . . . so I really don't see why taxes should support one but not the other.  Maybe farmers should re-consider the Granges and farm co-ops that used to deal with many of these issues without government intervention ? ? ?

    Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

    by Deward Hastings on Wed May 18, 2011 at 08:16:41 AM PDT

    •  My aunt, a wheat farmer in North Dakota, (12+ / 0-)

      expressed puzzlement about the subsidies years ago.  I remember her saying "They don't pay people for not making shoes."

      The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

      by ybruti on Wed May 18, 2011 at 08:19:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Usually, land must go into conservation mode, (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Pinto Pony, Odysseus, Loonesta, Matt Z, ybruti

        some cover crop that holds soil in place and adds to tilth. That is not worthless, the question is how much is paid to keep land out of production.

        "The people I distrust the most are those who want to improve our lives but have only one course of action" Frank Herbert

        by the fan man on Wed May 18, 2011 at 09:37:40 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  the question is (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          greatdarkspot, HeyMikey

          why pay at all to keep land out of production.  A cover of clover, and then let the prairie take it back . . .

          Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

          by Deward Hastings on Wed May 18, 2011 at 10:25:15 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Depends where and when. Because of high (0+ / 0-)

            grain prices, I've heard discussion of bringing that land back into production.

            "The people I distrust the most are those who want to improve our lives but have only one course of action" Frank Herbert

            by the fan man on Wed May 18, 2011 at 10:40:16 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  it's not necessary to pay for supply management (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            the fan man, ybruti

            and we did not pay for it in the past, for set asides in the 1990 farm bill, for example.  Congress, when it tried to weaken supply management to create oversupply and lower prices for the agribusiness buyers, (and for the input complex, to have more land in production to sell more inputs).  One way Congress weakened supply management was by making it voluntary and paid, rather than mandatory, effective and unpaid.

            "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

            by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 01:34:18 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Your assumptions are false in several ways, and (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      d

      you're not alone in that, as your views are widespread.

      First, farms have not received net benefits during the period of farm subsidies, they've been penalized with net reductions. Originally, for example 1942-1952, price floors were set at 90% of parity and prices stayed above that. Congress lowered price floors to where the US lost money for decades on farm exports, and most farmers were run out of business. When subsidies were LATER added, it only partially made up for the reductions, so it wasn't much of an "entitlement."  Corn subsidies are only a  small fraction of the amount corn prices were lowered by Congress, in order to provide cheap prices for US and foreign agribusiness buyers.  Note that OPEC raised prices, (what 41x?,) during a similar time frame.

      Please spread the word about repealing all Freedom-to-Farm style farm bills.  Unfortunately, most people concerned about farm subsidies know nothing of this "argument." Most food movement leaders (books, films, blogs) do not understand this issue, and cannot be relied on for support for farm bill justice.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 01:45:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Do you consider subsidized crop insurance (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        PrahaPartizan

        a subsidy?
        If not, why not?

        •  I do not understand that issue well and (0+ / 0-)

          do not write much about it.  

          One related matter I do understand is that they've tried to change the farm bill so that farmers can get insurance against low farm prices, which means  insurance against bad farm policy. It's like replacing minimum wage increases with insurance against the possibility of the government lowering the minimum wage.

          Here's a related article "The Morphing of Crop Insurance."

          Related to this is the ACRE program, "revenue insurance."

          I recommend APAC  this and IATP here and longer here.

          The Farm Bureau gets these matters wrong and also sells insurance, and has pushed for partly privatizing farm programs to insurance.

          "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

          by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 07:11:19 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Parity Is a Scam (0+ / 0-)

        Nothing sacred exists about the parity levels usually determined.  From what I can tell, they are a scam performed on the general American public by an interest group which benefits greatly from the parity level negotiated.  Those parity levels were not handed down from heaven and certainly cannot be found engraved on any stone tablets or golden plates to my knowledge.  They got negotiated by farm state politicians to maximize the benefit for their constituents.  Any discussion about farm issues always founders on this "parity" issue which always seems to be crammed down on urban state constituencies.  

        "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

        by PrahaPartizan on Wed May 18, 2011 at 04:51:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Surely you understand the need for standards (0+ / 0-)

          for fair trade prices and for farm programs.  Farm commodity prices do not self correct.  they lack price responsiveness on both supply and demand sides.  Without programs to keep farm prices up, the US the worlds largest exporter of farm commodities, is condemned to lose money.  This goes directly against business values and common sense.  

          Surely you're not opposed to profit and wealth creation.  Price floors were set at 90% of parity in the Steagall Amendment of 1941 by the banking committees as an economic stimulus.  

          Prices were lowered below 905 of parity under pressure from corporations.  The agribusiness output complex wanted below cost commodities.  The agribusiness input complex wanted zero supply management so they could sell more inputs. They and other corporations called for lowering price floors drastically to run farmers off the land "one third in a period of not less than five years."  This was bad for the US as it led to us losing money on farm exports in order to appease lobbists.  

          So is this where you're coming from?

          Anyone in Congress who is bought and paid for by these lobbies says just what you say.

          Do you argue that farmers have had a better deal than the cities?  If so where's your data?  I'm glad to show you mine.

          You see that I usually use the terms "living wage" prices and "fair trade prices."  Clearly, if America decides to stop export dumping and always make a profit on exports, we'll have to decide this question of what the standard should be.  So far  Congress has insisted on the kinds of policies under which we've used our massive export clout (even 70-90% market share) to lose money on exports.  

          By the way, have you kept up on the farm share of the food dollar, with both the agribusiness output complex share and agribusiness input complex share cut out?  Farmers only get 29% of what they got in 1950, agribusiness gets 90% more, and consumers pay 51% more.  That 29%:  is that what you mean by a scam against the public?

          "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

          by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 07:27:43 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  there's a really big line item (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        wishbone

        in the federal budget for "farm subsidies", and taxpayers are eating that bill.  If, as you say, "farms have not received net benefits" where is that money going, and why don't we just stop the flow?

        Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

        by Deward Hastings on Wed May 18, 2011 at 06:15:45 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Again, we've never needed subsidies except as (0+ / 0-)

          compensations for the massive reductions and losses that come from absurdly bad farm bills. The real beneficiaries are the highly concentrated buyers of farm commodities at reduced and below cost prices.  (They're much much more highly concentrated than the so called corporate farms typically described as the beneficiaries.  I include CAFO corps [also not in EWG's farm subsidy database] as some of these multibillion dollar individual beneficiaries.

          But note this:  they benefit from the lowering of farm prices.  That means that they benefit from the absence of price floors and supply reduction (as needed) programs.  They do not benefit economically from subsidies as subsidies do not cause the low prices.  They benefit politically from subsidies as subsidies place the blame on the victims of the low prices, and hide the highly concentrated corporate beneficiaries (exporters, food and feed mills, CAFOs, various other processors like ethanol).

          "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

          by Iowa Farm Activist on Thu May 19, 2011 at 07:02:23 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  The Devil Is In the Benchmark Details (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Deward Hastings, kck

      Farming suffers from its inherent inelastic demand and supply characteristics.  When supply exceeds demand, the prices fall precipitously, the crisis conditions to which the diaries refers.  Unfortunately, farming economics also create an inherently unstable cycle, wherein the price and supply fluctuations increase over time rather than decrease as they might do with most other products.  Economists recognize this as natural for this market.  Unfortunately, these type of fluctuations create havoc in real-world economies.

      Any dispute with farm advocates inevitably arises when the discussion turns to the benchmarks to be used for establishing subsidies and support programs.  Farmers always want to use their best ever period for setting prices while setting the cost-input ratios at the most favorable levels they've ever seen.  Naturally, those points generally do not occur during the same time periods, but that's OK with ardent farm advocates.  The whole point of the exercise is to generate the maximum cash flow for the farmers, not to reflect an equitable balance between the cost of inputs and the revenue generated.  That's what accounts for statements made in the diary about the loss of revenue against some hypothetical benchmark and how it's devastating farmers.  We should just decide that farmers are not independent business people but are to be considered a Heritage Occupation and treated like a utility with the state taking all of the output in exchange for a fixed salary and the state sharing in any profit from the sale of land by the farms' owners.  I can see that happening.  Yeah. Right.

      "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

      by PrahaPartizan on Wed May 18, 2011 at 04:46:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You understand inelasticity but then your solution (0+ / 0-)

        in the end is unrelated to such basic economic questions that I raised such as the US making a profit on farm exports.  You might be interested in Daryll Ray's analysis of how various economic schools choose various ways of going pro agribusiness and against the US making a profit on farm exports. It's appendix B to his full report here.  The report explains many related matters, and provides data.  So who is it that subsidizes these economists that think it makes sense for the US to lose money?

        The "benchmark" question is also the power question.  It's the question of who gets the wealth of agriculture.  There is nothing more controversial in the farm bill.  This is the big money, not the side issue of subsidies.

        The benchmark of the past was not hypothetical, it was parity, the term that frightens the exploiters and their supporters.

        You portray farmers as greedy, but provide no documentation for your views. In fact, I've never heard of farmers calling for more than parity prices.  In contrast, those benefiting from low farm prices have had repeated record incomes and returns on equity, as is documented here.  Since 1947 oil interests have raised prices 41x as of 2008 but corn prices, which were the same as oil in 1947, didn't even double.  Adjusted for inflation, that's a huge loss for corn, but an even bigger gain for oil. Farmers have never asked for anything close to the amount of increase that oil got.  In fact, farmers have often asked for less than parity, as can be seen here.

        Your comment makes no mention of any corporate greed related to farm price floors.  But in fact, corporations called for drastic reductions in price floors to run 1/3 of US farmers off the land within 5 years, as is documented here. Again, they profited from that at record levels, as documented above.

        "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

        by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 10:38:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Subsidies are immoral (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    grsplane, eXtina, majorityvoice

    loans are not. We provided low interest loans before 1973. We can do so again.

  •  Do we really need price floors? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    redstater, HeyMikey, wishbone

    It seems like most of this is a problem for producers who lack economies of scale, "below cost" is true for them but not for others.

    The US hasn't set the price for many commodities for some time (Heck, most anything outside agriculture)

    Subsidies are supported (and popular) in large part because they prevent the market from properly shaking out those who cannot compete.

    •  Really? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      emptythreatsfarm, wu ming, Odysseus
      ...properly shaking out those who cannot compete.

      and:

      ...producers who lack economies of scale,...

      The people who generally get shaken out and who lack economies of scale are generally engaged in practices that are less industrial in nature, own less acreage to begin with, and are more family-based.

      I fail to see how moving to an even more industrialized, "right-scaled", farming structure benefits our citizens- in the same way as I fail to see how moving manufacturing jobs to China benefits our citizens.

      Your comments, however, are a true reflection of our society's priorities for the last 3 decades.

      •  Do we like wealthy welfare recipients now? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Utahrd, PrahaPartizan

        Farm subsidies to keep "family farms" cost us far more than traditional welfare.

        Eliminating farm subsidies and tariffs benefit the nation as a whole via lower food prices, in particular the poor, who spend more of their budget on food than the wealthier.

        The effect of eliminating them on the bottom line of our government is also significant, money that could be spent on any number of more worthy expenditures.

        Why should Democrats decry subsidies to oil companies and banks, yet not farmers?

        •  I do not agree... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          James Allen

          ...that simply eliminating import tarriffs and eliminating subsidies benifit our nation's middle class and poor.  The last 30 years suggest something very different.

        •  the other caveat to this is... (0+ / 0-)

          ...that farm subsidies apply to grain and cotton- not produce.  I believe that sugar actually still has a price floor (which is not a subsidy).  I do not buy the premise that eliminating subsidies will lower grain prices.

          In general, most progressives are more interested in maintaining higher grain prices for the farmer than in depressing grain prices- which is at odds with our nation's cheap grain and food policies.

          I understand that there are people who do not like these policies.  But the idea that these things can just be eliminated with no adverse consequences to average people involved in these programs is ludicrous- they are exactly the people who would be hurt the most.

          I would agree that some cut-off level based on the level of production or size of acreage would be reasonable.

          •  My view is that farming should pay for itself (0+ / 0-)

            and not be subsidized, but to  do that requires price floors and supply management, since prices do not usually stay high enough to pay the way. When prices are allowed to fall so low that farmers need subsidies, then lots of bad things happen, as the food films and books have have shown.  See also my diary "Missing Plank in the Democratic Foodie Platform" for the many impacts.

            "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

            by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 07:41:58 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Generally, that problem is avoided... (0+ / 0-)

              ...by sheer size, in that a large agribusiness is capable of hedging and having the monetary resources to deal with a period of depressed prices.

              The basic problem is that small farms haven't made economic sense (Caveat, the boutique organic/speciality goods sectors) for decades at this point.

              •  How much economic sense "smaller" farms (0+ / 0-)

                make must be viewed in context. We've had decades of Congressional lowering of price floors.  ("It was supposed to have "made economic sense," I guess, for the US to lose money on farm exports, right, to subsidize foreign buyers?)  In that context, farms lost most of the value added of livestock to the heavily subsidized (by low farm prices, by farmers and taxpayers) CAFOs.  That changed the economic picture including the labor needs.  "Freedom-to-Farm took away the freedom or flexibility of the livestock option. States like Iowa lost enormous wealth as the cheap prices subsidized systems with much less wealth creation  as dozens of studies have shown.  For every new CAFO job, 3 independent farmers were lost, according to John Ikerd.

                Meanwhile whole industries that should never have been economically viable were created by the massive subsidization of lower and lower prices.

                "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

                by Iowa Farm Activist on Thu May 19, 2011 at 11:26:51 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  "never have been economically viable" (0+ / 0-)

                  Meaning, if you'd artificially kept the prices high, they would been uneconomic. I mean, you're basically inverting the meaning of the word "subsidization" at this point.

                  •  Farm prices don't self correct. There aren't (0+ / 0-)

                    the options for use of farmland like there are for a factory or other business location. I'm assuming business values, making a profit, but in this case that requires government help (which helps the US make a profit on exports). That's what you're calling artificial?  While ignoring all of these realities and losing money to "naturally" uphold free market ideology and the philosophy of economics (the values and assumptions) behind it, that would be natural.

                    As to what would have been "economically viable," that depends upon what assumptions are made about farm commodity prices in a different history.  I'm arguing that something along the lines of Congress not choosing to lower the value of US farm commodities, keeping them up to what they were, would have made a huge difference.

                    "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

                    by Iowa Farm Activist on Fri May 20, 2011 at 07:28:52 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

        •  Your comment leaves out low farm prices (0+ / 0-)

          below the cost of production.  You talk as if with subsidies farmers are benefiting, but subsidies plus market prices have gone lower and lower for decades, driving most farmers out of business.  I know this side of the question is not discussed in the food movement, but it should be.

          Farmers should not have subsidized your food, but they did.  Farmers in the US and overseas should be paid fair prices.  Price floors (beneath) and ceilings (on top) make this happen, but it doesn't happen in free markets.  Five USDA Economic Research Studies on five farm commodities found that overall prices plus subsidies were below full costs, in each case.

          Again, Congressional reductions in farm price floors have been much larger than the subsidies that farmers have received in return.

          We should "keep" a farming system that is as productive, environmentally sound, healthy, good for society and good for the economy as possible.  We've done the opposite.

          "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

          by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 07:36:36 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  But this isn't a free market failure (0+ / 0-)

            ...you just don't like the outcome of the free market, which is to shake out profits obtained by artificially lowering competition.

            Ultimately, as a business that benefits tremendously from deep pockets and economies of scale, it will end up an oligarchy, although a global market will prevent monopoly power.

            The upside will be lower cost and enhanced productivity, something which shouldn't just be hand-waived aside by images of Joe Farmer going bankrupt.

            •  The data doesn't support your view. (0+ / 0-)

              Yes you can imagine the issue as you describe, but you haven't addressed the economic arguments I made in the diary and repeatedly here.  In arbitrarily accepting "the outcome of the free market as a standard," you haven't faced the irrationalities of free markets for agriculture. They don't work, as abundant economic data shows. Self correction doesn't happen on either the supply or the demand side, not very much and not very quickly in the aggregate under most market conditions. The result of acting on that sort of belief is to greatly damage wealth creation and create lots of unnecessary costs born by the public elsewhere in the economy and in the future.

              You've ignored the fact that nowhere have I made any argument that conclusions should be drawn simply based on "images of Joe Farmer going bankrupt." The facts show just the opposite.  You've made unsubstantiated claims, while I've documented my claims.

              "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

              by Iowa Farm Activist on Thu May 19, 2011 at 11:33:49 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  In so much as your diary contains any data... (0+ / 0-)

                I mean, you have some unlinked cost and subsidy figures.  If "They don't work, as abundant economic data shows." you need to provide the data, because there are plenty of less subsidized agricultural markets functioning around the world (Although obviously not in the US and Europe)

                I haven't had much luck finding anything about corn and other staples being sold below production costs. Major staple crops are still well above break-even levels for 2011.

                While commodities prices can slip below costs of production in glut years, even with fuel prices up, that hardly seems the case right now.  Even smaller farmers are looking at quite a profitable year.

                •  Here's the context to explain the issues you raise (0+ / 0-)

                  My understanding of what the experts say is that storable farm commodities (ie. corn, wheat, rice, cotton, soybeans,) are particularly inelastic (do not self correct in free markets, on both supply and demand sides).  That's in the aggregate, as a group, as in various farming regions (the choice of a mix of these major farm commodities and some others varies by region). That applies to most market conditions that we've had for well over 100 years. They don't self correct very quickly or very much under most of the market conditions we've had.

                  This does not mean that we never have higher prices.  We had them during World War I and World War II, and after the secret Soviet grain deal, and we have higher prices again today, as you've noted.

                  I rely on Daryll Ray of the U of Tenn. (APAC) who has written about this and argues that it's well known by economists, or rather the data was well known, but has more recently been forgotten by economists philosophically favoring free market approaches.  Congress followed this latter trend, including the Democrats after Harkin became Senate Ag Chair. Ray lists some key economists who emphasized these matters. See the section "Perception of Agriculture has Shifted" (p. 5) here, which refers to "the data."  A summary of data on farm commodity inelasticity from Willard Cochrane's "The Development of American Agriculture" is featured here starting at 3 minutes 8 seconds.

                  USDA-ERS data on historical cost of production back to 1975 for these commodities can be found here, and yes, farmers have been doing much better than the very hard times of the past lately.  But how much.  Tim Wise (Tufts U, GDAE) adds some important context about farmer economics today here in "Still Waiting for the Farm Boom" and "Boom for Whom?"

                  Here's a related piece by Daryll Ray.

                  More for the general reader, see Ray's presentations and "Freedom To Farm: An Agricultural Price Response Experiment."

                  "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

                  by Iowa Farm Activist on Fri May 20, 2011 at 08:23:51 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  We've got a huge range of costs. (0+ / 0-)

                    To quote a 2001 report (PDF) (Merely as an example, not as a current figure:)

                    "The production costs for a bushel of corn
                    ranged from an average of $1.19 per bushel for those
                    farmers in the lowest quartile to $3.67 per bushel for corn
                    farmers in the highest quartile, ranked by production costs
                    per bushel."

                    This looks like a market ripe for consolidation.  Why in the world is the highest quartile still around when they have 3x the production costs?  Obviously, some land with higher costs will go out of production.

                    I did go through most of your links... although I must confess the linked video was rather rambling and confusing.  Why the advocacy for a price floor that did little to nothing?  It looks like rice price floors had been essentially irrelevant for two decades before they were discontinued, especially given the price trends after them.

                    Agricultural prices aren't going to "self-correct" under a farm subsidy policy that insists on keeping the weakest, high-cost producers solvent.  The larger players are still going to be above break-even at low prices, and have no incentive not to maximize production when every single bushel they move still adds profit.

                    This isn't some unchangeable aspect of agriculture in general, merely of the trade and subsidy regime that has been assembled.

                    •  Rice price floors were not irrelevant. Understand (0+ / 0-)

                      that they were lowered starting in 1953 by Congress under pressure from corporations wanting to buy cheap, even below cost rice.  It didn't just happen on it's own.  For example, in 1962 the corporate Committee for Economic Development report, "An Adaptive Program for Agriculture," they called for reductions in rice price floors by 40%, as part of a general plan to reduce " the farm labor force on the order of one third in a period of not more than five years, and that was just for one period of time.  Prices followed these corporate/Congressional policies as I show in the video.  I don't think you can see that anywhere else on the internet (other than my amateur videos).

                      Agricultural prices did not self correct before subsidies (ie. before 1977 for rice) and they did not self correct afterwards, so your thesis is wrong.   The same holds for the other major commodities.  Therefore it's never been about the weak, it's been a self destructive system.  A major result has been concentration into large farms, which are much weaker at wealth creation and jobs creation, and which cause indirect economic damage in a variety of ways (ie. ecological, health, social).

                      Farm subsidies plus farm prices are not, as you claim, a high level, but rather are much lower than prices alone in the past.

                      You also fail to address a fundamental economic issue that I've raised here repeatedly:  the US choosing to lose money on farm commodity exports, (in order to provide farm commodities at below fair market prices to agribusinesses).  Unlike OPEC, which has used it's (smaller) market clout to raise prices, we've used ours (ie. 70-90% export market share) to reduce the income we receive from farm exports.  In fact, none of the critics of this blog have even mentioned that aspect.

                      So this IS, or has been, for well over 100 years, a relatively "unchangeable aspect of agriculture" commodities "in general."  It is not, as you claim, "merely of the trade and subsidy regime that has been assembled."  My videos make that point with "four proofs."  You've addressed none of the four.

                      There are many reasons why there are a relatively wide range of production costs, as I've elaborated upon elsewhere here.

                      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

                      by Iowa Farm Activist on Fri May 20, 2011 at 05:55:45 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

    •  spoken like a true Republican. (0+ / 0-)

      "shaken out"  David Stockman, 1980s farm crisis

      The plan you're calling for is a way to massively reduce wealth creation, as we've seen in Iowa and throughout farm country.  Dozens of studies support this contention.  What do you have against wealth?

      In fact, farm commodities lack price responsiveness on both supply and demand sides, so you're free market, free trade theory doesn't make sense for agriculture.  It isn't backed by the data of farm economics.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 01:52:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Question: with record high grain prices, what (0+ / 0-)

    are we subsidizing to what extent? I understand what you've written re corn, so where are subsidies going? I've even heard talk of putting land in conservation back into production to bring grain prices down.

    "The people I distrust the most are those who want to improve our lives but have only one course of action" Frank Herbert

    by the fan man on Wed May 18, 2011 at 09:41:30 AM PDT

    •  good point...however... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      the fan man

      ...record grain prices will not last- and it is dificult for many to realize that the current prices only seem high due to the normal abysmally low prices that have dominated farming for the past 3 decades.

      Likely, if our economy ever recovers and the dollar increases in value, then grain prices will fall substantially.  At that point, a "bubble" will burst, and will have big consequences.  Of course, the demand for ethanol may mitigate this to some extent.

      It has truly been a godsend to our nation that farming has not been in horrible condition during this current depression.

      •  I don't see demand falling unless there (0+ / 0-)

        is a worldwide depression. Developing countries will suck up whatever wheat, corn and soy is available. Coupled with increasing erratic weather, I don't see prices dropping precipitously. If anything, prices will put grains out of reach for many, many people.

        "The people I distrust the most are those who want to improve our lives but have only one course of action" Frank Herbert

        by the fan man on Wed May 18, 2011 at 12:07:37 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  we've had nowhere near to record farm prices, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      the fan man, d, eastsidedemocrat

      contrary to what you may have heard, if adjustments for inflation are made. $10 corn, for example, is lower than more than half of the yearly average corn prices of history, back to 1866. The higher "skyrocketing" "record" corn, wheat and rice prices of 1997-2009 are in the bottom 25% of all time yearly average prices, with one slight exception.

      You may not have notices, but many have called for a return to export dumping, to losing money on farm exports, to address the imaginary "record" prices.  Of course, they don't put it that way, and they probably don't understand the facts.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 01:58:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm leary of "adjusting for inflation" by CPI, (0+ / 0-)

        by that measure grains were truly stratospheric in the 70s. Inflation has been very tame and 2008 retail consumer prices were pretty severe. I know farmers were spending record amounts for fertilizers and energy during that time but on farm prices seemed healthy. I didn't hear farmers complaining about price, I heard them complain about costs.

        "The people I distrust the most are those who want to improve our lives but have only one course of action" Frank Herbert

        by the fan man on Wed May 18, 2011 at 02:08:33 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Are you weary of getting paid at today's levels or (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          eastsidedemocrat

          would 1960s, 1950s, or 1940s wage levels be good enough for you today.  Adjusting for inflation is a way of showing that it's not fair for some people today to be getting paid at the levels of the past. I use a GDP deflator. Corn was not stratospheric in the 70s  it hit 111% of parity one year  about like in the 1940s.   Other grains were similar.  Oil, in contrast, which was the same as corn in 1947, hit about 10 x higher than that in 2008 or 1,085% of corn parity.  Now that's stratospheric.

          Parity is probably a fairer estimate of farm prices than adjusting for inflation, since production costs and yields are factored in.  Parity has risen more slowly than inflation.  In the news lately, however, farm prices are said to have hit record levels, with no mention of the relationship to production costs and  yields.  Therefore I adjust for inflation in rebutting those claims.  (Corn hit just over $7 here on 3 days in 2008, but adjusted for inflation, that was lower than half of the yearly average (not just single day) prices for corn, back to 1866.

          "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

          by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 07:55:19 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Take out the high inflation years during the (0+ / 0-)

            seventies and wheat has traded between $4 and $9 adjusted for inflation. Your right, parity is a fairer estimate and like I said, I know farmers costs have skyrocketed. Given weather extremes taking out production erratically worldwide, I would think it's a good time to be in the grain growing business in the states(?)

            "The people I distrust the most are those who want to improve our lives but have only one course of action" Frank Herbert

            by the fan man on Thu May 19, 2011 at 04:21:04 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Grain growing at this time has higher prices, much (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              the fan man

              higher than the lowest prices in history, but not all that high in the big picture. We also have the worst farm bill ever (except, perhaps for freedom to farm before it was adjusted with four emergency farm bills 1998-2001).  I can't predict the future, but there are good reasons why production may catch up in a few years.  So far prices haven't risen even to parity levels, even for a few days, so "shortages" haven't been all that much, as is often claimed.  Grain growers are set up for a devastation, should prices fall.  We had predictions that prices would always remain high, from now on, from Nixon's ag sec. Earl Butz in the 70s. But then we had a quarter century of the lowest prices ever, below full costs.

              "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

              by Iowa Farm Activist on Thu May 19, 2011 at 07:09:32 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I remember "plant to the fence posts" Butz. (0+ / 0-)

                The other half of this is the role cheap grain plays in international trade and food security in developing nations.  How do we get farmers off this treadmill? In other words, what are the reforms most needed?

                "The people I distrust the most are those who want to improve our lives but have only one course of action" Frank Herbert

                by the fan man on Thu May 19, 2011 at 11:10:29 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  The reforms I've called for address global food (0+ / 0-)

                  insecurity,  Though other measures are needed, since the devastation, (from our choosing to lose money on farm exports to subsidize US and foreign agribusiness,) has increased for decades.  We're the price leader as Daryll Ray has explained (p. 24+.  We have been able to set world export prices, we just set them where we don't make much money instead of going for a fair trade profit.  

                  So we need price floors and supply reduction programs (as needed) and price ceilings with reserve supplies.  These, with no commodity subsidies, were the key parts of traditional Democratic farm bills since the New Deal.  They were pushed in the Harkin-Gephardt Farm Bill of the 1980s and 90s, and they're in the Food from Family Farms Act of the National Family Farm Coalition.  They were recently pushed by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance at Common Dreams.

                  They are supported by the WTO Africa Group and La Via Campesina.  They have had major support in Europe.

                  The whole thesis of my diary is supported by the African American farmers of the Federation of Southern Land Cooperatives - Land Assistance Fund, briefly and in a longer report.

                  "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

                  by Iowa Farm Activist on Thu May 19, 2011 at 11:48:14 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

  •  I would suggest a means-testing approach (0+ / 0-)

    wherein no subsidies or other such payments are offered to any corporation/partnership/whatever worth more than $20 million or some other such arbitrary number that would allow such to most smaller family farms, but excludes agricorps, who get to take their chances on the markets and the weather...

    •  you misunderstand that the only increases given (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      d

      through the farm bill over the past nearly 60 years are for the buyers, not the sellers. They get increases because Congress lowered and eliminated price floors and reduced and eliminated supply reduction (as needed) programs.  The benefits they've received from price reductions are many times the amounts that the government has paid out in farm subsidies.  You should advocate against that exploitation, as they've made record profits repeatedly under these Congressional changes.  In contrast, farm subsidies have always been compensations for the reductions in prices.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 02:01:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  That's what President Bush (0+ / 0-)

      actually proposed in the 2007 Farm Bill, only much lower.  No subsidy to any farm generating more than 1 million in sales.  Like his immigration reform plan (which was to the left of Obama's), it got laughed out of committee.

  •  We need to reform subsidies, not eliminate them! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    boophus, James Allen

    We started subsidies for a reason: If farmers lose money and go under, they won't be there next growing season to grow a crop and feed us. We need to reform and retarget subsidies to promote best farming practices and keep farmers from failing when prices drop.

    •  sounds like Wall Street . . . (5+ / 0-)

      privatize the profits, subsidize/socialize the losses.  Why, if we let the banks fail who will be there to take our money?

      There needs to be a better way than creating an agrarian welfare class . . .

      Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

      by Deward Hastings on Wed May 18, 2011 at 10:31:12 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  "They won't be there?" I doubt it. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Deward Hastings

        The land will be there. The demand for food will be there. SOMEBODY will figure out a way to grow food on the land to meet that demand.

        That doesn't mean we should abolish subsidies overnight, leaving farmers high and dry. But it means we need a transition plan to get us away from subsidies.

        If food gets too expensive for the poor, then we need to increase Food Stamp allocations. We shouldn't subsidize food for everybody.

        "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

        by HeyMikey on Wed May 18, 2011 at 11:23:44 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  But we have subsidizes food for everybody, at the (0+ / 0-)

          farmers expense.  That is, congress lowered and eliminated price floors.  Farmers have long subsidized consumers, not the other way around. In so damaging the family farm system, Congress also damaged wealth creation.  The Steagall Amendment of 1941 set price floors at 90% of parity.  It came from the banking committees as an economic stimulus, but not one paid for by the government. It was through the private sector.  Dozens of studies have documented the reduced wealth creation and increased external costs caused by the lowering of price floors. The US is the leading agricultural exporter, and yet Congress chose for us to lose money on farm exports, calling it more "competitive.  OPEC raised oil prices 41x, as we raised corn prices 2x, which, adjusted for inflation, is a huge loss.

          "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

          by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 02:16:12 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  It doesn't add up. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            PrahaPartizan, flowerfarmer

            If farmers subsidized everybody else over the long haul, or even the medium haul, soon there would be no farmers. But there are farmers. (I include agribusiness.) Thus farmers must not be consistently subsidizing everybody else.

            On the rest of your comment: you may well be right, but I and I suspect most readers of this diary aren't even well-informed enough to have a clear idea what you're talking about. Please see my other recent comment suggesting a diary series.

            "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

            by HeyMikey on Wed May 18, 2011 at 03:03:09 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  But note that most farmers HAVE gone out of (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              MusicFarmer

              business.  It is a fair question, of course.  There are many factors behind it.  

              First, the reductions in farm market prices came gradually over decades.  At first it wasn't as bad.  The lowest prices in history were 1998-2005 (ie. 8 of the lowest 10 corn prices and similar for other major commodities). Second, there was increasing volatility, so farming was increasingly a gamble, and there was a luckiest 10% and an unluckiest 10%.  Then there are other major variations.  Off farm income saved many.  Those with the highest off farm income have tended to survive, so that in recent years off farm incomes of farmers have risen a lot (based upon who survived).  You can come to farm country and see the farms.  I have tractors from the 1960s and 50s.  As farmers went broke during the 80s land values crashed and some farmers got land much cheaper than others paid.  They also got machinery at rock bottom prices.  Livestock facilities have been allowed to decay, with no reinvestment. Some farmers get very low rent from family (ie. parents) or widows or acreage people.  Sometimes farmers appeared to make money on indivdual enterprises (ie. soybeans, cattle) but not in terms of whole farm costs, the figures I've emphasized. Children have worked for low pay or no pay. The lack of income has been spread out in many ways like these.  

              "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

              by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 08:09:45 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  FarmERS, but not farms, out of business. (0+ / 0-)

                The number of farmers has dropped, sure, but the land is still in production.

                I do NOT mean to minimize the hardships and indeed suffering of families trying to operate small farms in an environment that favors Big Agribusiness. But...I don't view the small-farm way of life as any more deserving of taxpayer subsidies than the small-hardware-store way of life, or the small-law-firm way of life. The taxpayer needs changes to farm policy to result in healthier food, produced more humanely, with less environmental harm, and with less taxpayer subsidy. And I would support taxpayer-funded programs to help small farmers transition out of the farm biz without financial ruin. But I don't see that the taxpayer has an interest in indefintely preserving small farms per se.

                "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

                by HeyMikey on Thu May 19, 2011 at 12:35:37 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

          •  eliminating price supports (0+ / 0-)

            is not the same as "subsidizes food for everybody".  To be sure it's hard knocks for anyone who overproduces a perishable commodity (at least if others have done the same) . . . the price crashes and you have to sell at a loss.  If two farmers have two truckloads of peaches and there's only buyers for one truckload it's a race to the bottom.  But I've never seen a farmer who, if he had one truckload and buyers for two, wouldn't let them bid the price up, either.

            For sure the fact that you can't "hold back" one load and sell them next month adds a degree of . . . unbalance, and pressure . . . but that's why there are canneries and freezers (and futures markets).  The real issue, though, is that you want price floors but not price ceilings.  If prices fall because of overproduction you cry that you're subsidizing food, if prices rise you protest that you're not gouging (you're just laughing all the way to the bank).

            Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

            by Deward Hastings on Wed May 18, 2011 at 06:08:13 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  You're wrong. I've repeatedly called for ceilings (0+ / 0-)

              over farm prices, and reserve supplies to be put on the market when prices hid those targets as has the family farm movement for decades, and as they do today.

              In contrast, the concentrated corporations have repeatedly made record profits and returns on equity, but never offer anything in return.  

              Farm commodities do not self correct, so free market "hard knocks" ideology doesn't make sense here. It doesn't make any kind of business sense for farmers to individually cut back on supply for this reason.  (see videos below)

              Farmers have long sold the food you buy at greatly reduced prices, below full costs for a quarter century, not at fair trade prices.  Most recently dairy prices have been far below costs.  In the 90s it was pork.

              "Storable commodities" (corn, wheat, rice, soybeans etc.) are different from the fruits and vegetables in your example.  They  can be stored by the agribusiness complex to drive down prices the next year, for example. Commodity farmers have not been able to set their own prices.  Scott Marlow's short video series explains some of this, as doesDaryll Ray's report here or this short column.  (I disagree with Scott on some points, so see my comments there on #s 1, 3, 4, & 5.)

              "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

              by Iowa Farm Activist on Thu May 19, 2011 at 07:30:41 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  actually, subsidies were generally started... (0+ / 0-)

      ...to replace the price floor structure that was instituted with the New Deal.

      Subsidies stipulated that the taxpayer would foot the bill instead of the direct buyer of the commodity (through the use of a price floor).

      It is sort of like replacing a tarriff on shoe imports with a direct treasury payment to a domestic shoe manufacturer.

    •  the problem with subsidy reforms like you (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ybruti

      suggest, (and like we hear about all across the food movement,) is that it doesn't address the underlying problems, but instead ignores them.  Farm prices have usually been low because they lack price responsiveness (they don't self correct in free markets) on both supply and demand sides. We finally fixed that in policy under Henry Wallace (Roosevelt's New Deal). We had nonsubsidy price floors and supply reductions on the bottom side of price, and price ceilings and reserve supplies, which are occasionally needed on top.  

      We started subsidies to quiet down farmers who were angry over the lowering of price floors. The reforms we need are to return to adequate price floor programs, as in the Food from Family Farms Act of the National Family Farm Coalition.  These policies and programs support the concerns you raise.

      Low farm prices have been devastating to "best farming practices," as farms have lost livestock to cheap grain fed CAFOs, and with these losses, they've lost flexibility (freedom).  They've lost pastures and hay, and resource conserving crop rotations.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 02:09:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Michelle Bachmann got $250,000 Farm Subsidies (9+ / 0-)

    That in itself is enough to formulate my opinion they should all be elimininated.

    •  and that's because you don't know the facts. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      the fan man

      If you've read the articles about Congressional farm subsidies, I think you'll find that none of them, NONE, mention the simple fact that subsidies are compensations for massive reductions in farm market prices.  

      I think you'll also find that NONE of the articles about Congressional farm subsidies mention that the years in which these subsidies were received were the lowest farm market prices ever recorded in our history, going back to 1866 for some commodities (and adjusted for inflation).   Nor is it mentioned that Congress chose to have us, the worlds largest farm exporter, lose money on farm exports, by reducing and eliminating price floors and supply management.

      Michelle Backmann's income was reduced below previous farm income levels by much more than $250,000, as can be easily demonstrated with the facts.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 02:22:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  A better way (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus, flowerfarmer

    There is no reason to subsidize agribusiness, which is what this program does.

    If, as people keep saying, we want to subsidize family farms, then -- just maybe -- the way to do that is to subsidize family farms. I know that this is a radical idea but it is possible.

    Simply pay any individual or couple making more than half their income from farming some figure, $25,000 a year to start the discussion. We'd have to taper off the payments at both ends, but that is one more complexity.

    Corporations are people; money is speech.
    1984 - George Orwell

    by Frank Palmer on Wed May 18, 2011 at 10:40:06 AM PDT

    •  Not family farms, either. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      HiBob, dnpvd0111

      Why not family hardware stores? Or family clothing stores? Or family law firms? My son works for a small (6 or so employees) computer-refurb company--should it be subsidized?

      "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

      by HeyMikey on Wed May 18, 2011 at 11:26:51 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The reason we subsidize farms is that (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        flowerfarmer

        we can live without a hammer for a couple of days, but dinner becomes a priority.

        If you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much stupid costs

        by Sychotic1 on Wed May 18, 2011 at 01:35:11 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Doesn't cut it. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          radmul, PrahaPartizan

          The land isn't going anywhere, and obviously demand will exist as long as there are people. Subsidies or no, food will get grown on the land. If food becomes too expensive for the poor, then we can and should increase Food Stamps.

          As a compromise, I would support subsidizing stuff that's lacking in the American diet--fresh fruits and veggies--rather than the corn, wheat, rice, sugar we currently subsidize.

          "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

          by HeyMikey on Wed May 18, 2011 at 01:41:59 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  On fresh fruits and veggies, that's a common (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Sychotic1

            argument, but I see it as flawed as follows. We have bad policies that have lowered farm commodity prices, devastated farms and rural communities and farm states and farm countries such as Least Developed Countries which are 70% rural.  Currently fruit and vegetable farmers are doing better by most economic standards I've seen (percent of parity prices, share of the food dollar, return on equity). We don't want bad policies for fruits and vegetables.  Studies by ERS of farm commodities found that each (of 5 studied) netted below zero even with subsidies.  So they weren't privileged.  Corn prices (x acres x yields) have been about $1.5 trillion below what they   once were (by my calculations, in constant dollars,) and subsidies have only compensated for about $0.2 trillion of those reductions.  In short, it's wrong to think of corn as "King."  It's been a pauper.  We've needed to raise corn and other commodity prices to help fruits and vegetables. You do that with price floors and supply reduction programs (as needed).  Consumers also need topside protections, price ceilings and reserve supplies.  Food progressives should support that too, as in the Harkin-Gephardt farm bill of the past, and the Food From Family Farms Act of today.

            "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

            by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 08:22:45 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Why do farmers grow corn? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              HeyMikey

              If growing corn doesn't make economic sense, why don't farmers switch to something else?

              •  Here's an article that answers your question (0+ / 0-)

                in a number of ways.  It compares changes in production as needed in the computer business today with farming.  It's about Dell Computer's just-in-time inventory management.

                Daryll E. Ray, Wouldn't It Be Nice.

                "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

                by Iowa Farm Activist on Sat May 21, 2011 at 11:20:10 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

            •  Sipping from fire hose. (0+ / 0-)

              Sorry to sound like a broken record, but you're obviously extremely well-informed, and I (and I suspect other readers) are having a difficult time following your points. F'rinstance, as Coastrange asks:

              If growing corn doesn't make economic sense, why don't farmers switch to something else?

              I just don't think you can expect folks on a general political forum like DKos to be familiar with the facts and issues that lead you to your conclusions.

              And ag policy should be important to progressives. The current ag policy results in much unhealthy food, with healthy food too expensive for the poor, probably has a lot to do with our obesity epidemic, screws up our trade relations, keeps farmers in developing countries in poverty, damages our environment, causes a lot of animals to suffer, and costs a bunch of tax dollars that are sorely needed for other programs. Progressives should be interested in improving this mess.

              So again I suggest a diary series starting at a more elementary level.

              I have tagged your piece here http://agpolicy.org/... for later reading; thanks for that link.

              "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

              by HeyMikey on Thu May 19, 2011 at 02:36:53 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I welcome your broken record and sincerely (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                HeyMikey

                appreciate your feedback. I will try to do as you request and/or write short things with links to further short explanations.

                On why farmers don't grow something else, I responded but maybe it didn't post or is posted somewhere else below.  I'll try to find it and link it to the comment above yours.

                I support the progressive concerns you mention, but

                Overall, (again?) much of the challenge, I believe, is that I'm proposing a different paradigm from how the story has been told (in various parts) by the food movement.  So I find it necessary to explain parts of my explainations that are also misrepresented.  That's  hard for me to keep simple and short.  Then in comments from that (and other) paradigms it gets even more challenging.  On the other side, it's surely hard for readers to consider so many differences in paradigm in one diary.  So I see it as a dilemma to write this as needed.  If it was too short, with little explanation for going against a lot of food movement assumptions, then it could be easily discounted as way out of touch.  

                In fact, for better or worse, it has generated a lot of discussion.  I now have documented (with the comment discussions) a wide range of comparisons between widely accepted views and my alternate views.

                If these same progressives had similarly studied these issues during the 1980s farm crisis, they would find that my view was the dominant progressive one.

                A related challenge is that my main progressive allies (ie. in the specific links here), theInstitute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Food and Water Watch (see link below), Daryll Ray, and Tim Wise (see link below) and also the National Family Farm Coalition and members, do not typically spell out enough of the key needed clarifications in their writing, as I argue here, for example, (where I show an example where Tim Wise mentioned farm bill problems 17 times but never specified the specific needed alternative, leading Tom Philpott at Grist and Mark Bittman at the NYT and others, operating out of a different paradigm, to draw false conclusions).  See also links to 3 Food and Water Watch examples (ie. see my comments about how they're misunderstood by those with a food movement paradigm,) in footnote 23, "No Quick Subsidies Fix for Food System," here.

                "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

                by Iowa Farm Activist on Fri May 20, 2011 at 08:58:23 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

          •  The food will get grown. It's true (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Sychotic1

            But what about the people who grow that food. Farm support programs are about providing dignity and living standards to people who live and work and farms instead of moving to the city.  If you look around the world, wherever there are generous supports for farmers, farm families can maintain the same standards of living as middle class city folks.  But where those supports are missing, rural areas of filled with the poor.  It's about the people, not about your own personal food source.

        •  That's a reason for farm programs, but there (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          the fan man, HeyMikey, Sychotic1

          are much better programs than subsidies.  The reason we subsidize farms is that we have programs that massively reduce their income most of the time, in order to secretly subsidize corporate grain buyers with below cost grain, and our  politicians want to hide that fact.

          "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

          by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 08:13:04 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  farm commodities don't self correct in free (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        HeyMikey

        markets for a variety of reasons that are not readily apparent to those who do not study this issue. That's why we have farm programs and not hardware programs or clothing programs.

        There should, however, be no farm subsidies.  There should be market management policies and programs like those developed in the New Deal. Farmers paid interest on price floor loans to make the system work.

        The problem now, is with the media and the movement to reform the farm bill, which has all kinds of misunderstandings about the relevant issues.  Therefore, I've proposed raises in subsidies (which are part of programs that are bad for farmers in the long run,) to help them hold on, should prices fall, as they did, eventually, following the 1970s Russian grain deal. Hopefully the food movement will soon stop spreading myths and get on board with true Democratic farm bill justice, as in the Harkin-Gephardt Farm Bill, or NFFC's Food from Family Farms Act.

        "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

        by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 02:35:28 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  May I suggest a diary series? (4+ / 0-)

          I bet I'm not the only one who'd be interested in more detail, but broken down into bite-size bits for us non-experts.

          1. Why the farm commodities market needs government intervention. I.e., why intervention serves the larger public interest, not just the interest of farmers.

          2. Current government farm programs and their flaws.

          3. Non-subsidy alternatives to present programs.

          4. How to transition from #2 to #3.

          Or something like that.

          Thanks for this diary!

          "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

          by HeyMikey on Wed May 18, 2011 at 02:58:40 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Thanks for your suggestion. I wasn't expecting (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            the fan man, HeyMikey

            so much interest, as I usually don't get it. I've written about this extensively.  Let's see.
            1.a (need) See short answers from Daryll Ray here or here or a longer version here on the Legacy of the Wallaces in Democratic farm policies of the 20th century.  These are also linked here.

            1.b (public interest) See this diary here at Daily Kos on the larger implications.  It's written as a platform plank.  Read the whereas'.

            2. Current programs (in the "Commodity Title," which is my only concern, and which is bigger than all the rest combined in economic impact in the US and worldwide,) have zero price floors, zero supply reduction programs, zero price ceilings and zero reserve supplies.  Subsidies are a wholly inadequate substitute.  We should get rid of subsidies and put in the other policies.

            3. covered in #2

            4. The first major step is to inform the huge food movement that these issues exist. They already oppose cheap corn etc., and see many of the problems that result. They already know that the Commodity Title is absurd.  They just need help to see that subsidy reforms alone won't do  it.  When this education is done, we're well on our way.  But it's not done, so farmers need subsidies until it gets done.

            "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

            by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 08:40:13 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  your solution is not new. It's Republican in (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      the fan man

      nature, and it doesn't make sense if the full facts are understood.

      Farm market prices don't self correct in free markets, so we need the basic Democratic farm programs, price floors and supply management on the bottom side, to make the system functional and profitable, with significant wealth creation.

      To merely subsidize family farms is to allow a situation where farm prices are usually low, where CAFOs get grain at far below fair trade levels, often far below the cost of production. Any proposed amount for family farms isn't enough to compensate for the loss of value added livestock, which are also essential for resource conserving crop rotations.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 02:27:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Living the midwest.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus

    ....I have to deal with farm subsidies a lot. I'll reread this diary more carefully and come back with a number of comments and questions.

  •  thanks for adding this... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sychotic1, socal altvibe

    ...this is a topic that i rarely talk about to anyone anymore- simply because they just aren't interested and think I am crazy to bring it up.

    Price floors are the way to go- and they are generally payed by the buyers and not the taxpayer.  But, just as with tariffs and other simple economic tools that conventional wisdom has put off the table, price floors aren't even allowed into the discussion.

    And now the situation is developing where the conventional wisdom is saying that we can't even use subsidies.

    And, of course, it would just be deemed insane to develop policies that would encourage and reward locally grown produce that wouldn't need to be shipped from California, Florida, and Chile.  Only lefties would think of something like that.

  •  Sure wish the diarist (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    the fan man

    would have hung around to answer the plethora of good questions and comments.

    "I'm not writing to make conservatives happy. I want them to hate my opinions. I'm not interested in debating them. I want to stop them." - Steve Gilliard

    by grog on Wed May 18, 2011 at 11:59:05 AM PDT

    •  I'll keep checking in. (0+ / 0-)

      I've tried to answer a bunch.  I'm tearing out some fence today, but thought I'd check to see if I had responses.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 02:37:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Whenever liberals rail against farm subsidies (0+ / 0-)

    I feel like asking them, tongue-in-cheek, "Why are you trying to dismantle one of the enduring legacies of the New Deal?"  Because that where agricultural subsidies began - with the Agricultural Adjustment Administration paying farmers to produce less in order to raise farm prices.

    Of course, depressed farm prices aren't the problem they were in the 1920s and 1930s, but still I thought people might find this bit of historical trivia interesting.

    "I used to try to get things done by saying `please'. That didn't work and now I'm a dynamiter. I dynamite `em out of my path." - Huey Long

    by puakev on Wed May 18, 2011 at 12:37:53 PM PDT

    •  conditions are far different than the AAA period (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Odysseus, flowerfarmer, dirtfarmer, DawnN

      As sometimes happens with well-meaning government programs, powerful corporate interests have learned how to game the system.  I think the New Deal farm programs were necessary and innovative when introduced, but are now musty and entrenched.

      Subsidies for crops like corn and soybeans are directly responsible for the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, massive soil erosion, and contaminated aquifers.

      They prevent more sustainable family-scale farmers from getting access to land by inflating rental rates.  They are locking out a generation of people who want to farm, and cannot afford to.

      Farm programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program, that compensate farmers for making environmental investments on their land make much more sense than anything in the commodity title.

      A sustainable food system requires eliminating the current system.

      •  We really no longer use the New Deal program... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        HiBob, radmul

        ...which was based around price floors and production controls.

        we transitioned to the subsidy system in the 1970's and 1980's.

        •  My fault for not wording it properly.... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dirtfarmer, DawnN

          What I was trying to get at was that government intervention was necessary and meant to help the average farmer during the Depression.  

          Since then, the massive pro-export, free-trade lobbying forces have come to dominate policy discussions and twist farm bills since the mid 1960s.

          Production controls haven't been completely abandoned either, and have been used sporadically even after the 1970s.

      •  Yes corporations certainly do, but here's where (0+ / 0-)

        I take issue with your other points.  First, New Deal farm programs did not have subsidies for corn, wheat. rice, etc. The reason for those programs was the lack of price responsiveness, the failure of farm prices to self correct.  Those reasons have not gone away over the years.  I can't predict the future, but there are good reasons  why they still have not gone away.

        Next, subsides aren't what cause those environmental problems.  With low corn prices (the lack of price floors I've emphasized farmers have lost livestock to CAFOs so they had no more use for pastures and hay ground, so it got plowed up.  It was low prices that caused it, not high benefits.  Rental rates go up because of speculation and tax loss farming.  Farmers got tax breaks instead of fair prices, but they count for more the higher tax level you're in, so they bring in outside investors, then the expectation sets in. Farm prices plus subsidies have greatly gone down to low income levels, not up to high income levels to push up land values. You can see this by comparing prices plus subsidies to parity price levels.  See the charts in these (2 parts of one video) videos about food films and Michael Pollan.

        I'm in CSP. It helps but it does not at all address the basic problem of low farm prices and the many bad consequences for the environment and for farmers.  For that we need price floors and supply management. See the many benefits here.

        "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

        by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 08:57:07 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Actually Farm Subsidies changed radically (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      d

      in the 70s is my understanding, up until that point they had worked really well, but then someone "fixed" them.

      If you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much stupid costs

      by Sychotic1 on Wed May 18, 2011 at 01:36:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's widely and falsely believed that subsidies (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sychotic1

        were part of New Deal farm programs for crops like corn wheat and rice but they weren't. What changed was that price floors (that "had worked really well,") were lowered, starting in 1953.  Congress (and various administrations using administrative authority,)  lowered them more and more until 1996 when they were ended. Subsidies were started in 1961 for corn, wheat and feedgrains, 1964 for cotton, 1977 for rice, and 1998 for soybeans to partly compensate farmers for the reductions in prices. The link for this subsidy data is here:  "United States by Program, 1933-2007"
        .  I forgot to put it in somewhere around here.

        "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

        by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 09:07:57 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  actually, farm prices were... (0+ / 0-)

      ...depressed in the 1920's and 1930's.

      That is one of the reasons the USDA was given the power to institute production controls to increase the prices.  There were mass slaughters of livestock and dumping of milk throughout the nation to bolster prices.

      •  Actually I was saying they were depressed (0+ / 0-)

        during the 1920s and 1930s, and that they aren't depressed today.

        "I used to try to get things done by saying `please'. That didn't work and now I'm a dynamiter. I dynamite `em out of my path." - Huey Long

        by puakev on Wed May 18, 2011 at 02:13:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  sorry, I misunderstood. about today... (0+ / 0-)

          ...it is really hard to guage because prices were so bottom-low for so long before the dollar started to fall after 2000- and especially since 2008.

          The one thing I am sure of is that current grain prices are not high in comparison to the current cost of production.

        •  adjusted for inflation prices are lower today (0+ / 0-)

          We had the lowest prices in history 1998-2005.  This was devastating to farmers. We've had the lowest 20 years of prices 1990-2010, and the lowest 30 years 1980-2010.  Subsidies have compensated for some of this, as they did not during the Depression.

          "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

          by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 09:11:05 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  You're point is widely held, and false. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DawnN

      In fact, with the exception of some subsidies for cotton, there were no farm commodity subsidies like today during the New Deal. That wasn't the Democratic approach.  Subsidies were started in 1961 for corn, wheat, feedgrains, 1964 for cotton, 1977 for rice, 1998 for soybeans.  See data here.

      I've heard that the new deal farm programs made the government $13 million.  (ie. see Mark Ritchie and Kevin Ristau, Crisis by Design:  A Brief Review of US Farm Policy, League of Rural Voters, 1987, p. 3)

      I can point you to numerous sources that make the same claim as you.  It's a widespread myth of the food movement.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 02:43:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Republished in Sustainable Food and Agriculture (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus, ybruti, flowerfarmer, DawnN

    because we need to understand this subject much better.

    Please write more. I would like to suggest you actually divide this diary up and write a series about this topic.

    •  Sorry, I didn't mean for it to be so long. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      flowerfarmer, DawnN

      See my other diaries here.  See more blogs and links to blogs and links to short articles and longer materials from other authors (ie. Missouri Rural Crisis Center, National Family Farm Coalition, Institute for agriculture and Trade Policy, Daryll E. Ray, Timothy Wise, Food and Water Watch.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 02:46:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Don't be sorry! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        flowerfarmer

        I'm glad you wrote this! I just want to see it get the attention it deserves. I think smaller, shorter diaries might gain more attention. Especially if we can republish them to groups that are interested in farming and politics combined.

        Please, please keep writing. I will also check out your other diaries. Consider yourself followed from now on :)

        •  Thanks. We must keep working. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          angelajean

          Hopefully the word will get out there.

          You may notice that I have a lot online, and I've collected the best links related to this that I can find, here.   Much of the best NGO work on this was pre-internet.

          "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

          by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 09:14:17 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's crazy how long people have been trying to fix (0+ / 0-)

            this. I have been interested in this subject for a long time. I think the farm subsidies have wrecked havoc with farmers overseas while they haven't helped the farmers who truly need the help here in the US, small, organic producers. Our laws are outdated and less than useful. It's a shame that the farm bill only comes up once every 5 years.

            •  Yes, but subsidies are only the cover. Really (0+ / 0-)

              what caused havoc overseas  is the absence of price floors and supply management, not the presence of subsidies.  I emphasize this point because it's usually misunderstood in the food movement today.

              On thing low prices did was subsidize the removal of livestock from farms to CAFOs, so farmers lost this value added, and lost a reason for pastures and hay.

              We need to get food movement leaders on board before 2012 if possible.  So far most main leaders haven't understood the issue as I've presented it here.  They've advocated against their own values and for agribusiness exploitation, by calling only for subsidy reforms and not for price floors etc.

              "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

              by Iowa Farm Activist on Thu May 19, 2011 at 07:35:21 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Why all the corn? This diary is about corn. (0+ / 0-)

    Let's separate subsidy and price support(floors??) for commodity crops like sugar, corn and soybeans from food crops.

    The time is right to move Iowa and other mid west states back to growing produce like they did earlier in the 20th century.  It's too far to ship food from California to the east coast.  The fuel and water costs of growing in the west is too high.

    This diary is very unclear.  I almost think it is being dishonest and deliberately obscure.

    •  I've worked hard to provide clarity in responses. (0+ / 0-)

      On the produce question, we should approach that in a way that does not destroy produce markets.  Iowa could grow tons of fruits and vegetables, as we have so much good land, but we don't want to wreck things for California, etc.   I'm not sure California appreciates this.  Yes, I agree to reducing food miles, but with some care.

      I've often been using corn as an example for the main commodities, (wheat, rice, cotton, soybeans and others) rather than illustrating each one.  It's just handy.

      I'm for raising corn prices and growing a lot less of it, as less would be needed at fair trade prices. It would then enable fruits and vegetables to compete better in grocery stores and some of the junk foods would cost more.  I'd like to see more clover and alfalfa.

      So I'm against the lack of price floors.  This, not subsidies, is the problem related to food movement concerns in major films and books. I'm for price floors set at adequate levels so that no subsidies are needed.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 09:24:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It doesn't work that way. If corn prices go up, (0+ / 0-)

        like you want them to through artificial manipulations, don't you think that will be an incentive to plant more corn acres, not fewer?

        Price supports and subsidies for commodity crops are more than likely the reason Iowa moved away from food crops.  

        Just like Florida.  Our prime agriculture land, the Everglades Agricultural Area is used for growing stupid sugar cane.  What a  waste.  Dick Lugar is trying to get rid of price supports for that worthless crop.  These price manipulations have done nothing but enrich a few huge growers, cause pollution of the Everglades and drive up produce prices by limiting winter vegetable crops.  The price supports also drive up prices of everything that contains sugar.

        •  Prices for everything that contains sugar should (0+ / 0-)

          reflect fair prices for farmers.  Consumers should not be subsidized by on farm losses as they have for many crops for decades, and recently for dairy.  

          Farm commodities don't self correct in free markets.  That's well established by economic data.  Therefore, in free trade ideology, it's "natural" for the US to lose money on farm exports of these crops and "artificial" for the US to charge above the cost of production?  In this case, free trade ideology goes against business values (profit!) and common sense.

          Price floors were lowered, not raised, in the era that led to changes toward more corn and soybeans.  The data from history doesn't support your thesis.

          If sugar is worthless, then high prices are good and Lugar is lobbying for cheap sugar for corporate buyers.  Lugar has long been on the wrong side of this.

          In fact, price floors must be, (and have been whenever effectively implemented,) combined with supply reduction programs as needed.  So less corn is planted, not more.  Also, with higher prices, less corn is needed, as it becomes cheaper to leave land in pasture, forages, hay, and raise livestock in that way instead of in giant animal factories with grain.  It becomes more expensive for ethanol, transfats, high fructose corn syrup.

          "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

          by Iowa Farm Activist on Thu May 19, 2011 at 07:44:11 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  As far as sugar goes, consumers should not be (0+ / 0-)

            subsidizing a crop that would not be planted if it wasn't for price supports.

            Sugar growers aren't farmers.  Consumers shouldn't be paying higher prices to ensure a fat profit for them.

            This is pretty selective.  You focus solely on price supports.  

            Price floors were lowered, not raised, in the era that led to changes toward more corn and soybeans.

            Do you have a link to support that?  The government interference since the 1930's has been much more intrusive:

            http://www.fns.usda.gov/...

            Basically, it sounds like you want to continue the screwed up status quo.  You want to keep a system that is profitable for large commodity producers at the expense of taxpayers.  You claim you are an activist for farms.  Right.  This is what REAL activists would be working on:

            http://www.agweek.com/...

            The study from Iowa State University looked at what would happen if farmers in six Midwestern states — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin — raised 28 crops in quantities large enough to meet local demand. It found that if an ample supply of produce could be grown regionally, it would spur $882 million in sales, more than 9,300 jobs and about $395 million in labor income.
            •  You disagree with the food movement's sugar (0+ / 0-)

              concerns?  Or you have a different view of it, favoring low prices not high prices, so it's cheap like high fructose corn syrup has been?

              Yes, I haven't tried to address everything in the farm bill.  I've kept a narrow focus on this, the biggest issue in the farm bill in terms of economic impact in the US and globally.

              I think it's great for Iowa to grow a greater diversity of crops, with fewer food miles, but it shouldn't be done in a way that wrecks markets for fruit and vegetable growers elsewhere. It takes infrastructure and training to do that.  Are California fruit and vegetable growers calling for this?

              Price floors were lowered by Congress under corporate pressure starting in 1953, and eliminated in 1996.  There were, however,  some cost of production raises in price floors during the 1970s. I've presented some data in chart form showing this in videos here and here, especially near the end.  You can find the data I used in earlier versions of Agricultural Statistics (remember price floors ended in 1996).  For example, in the 1994 edition online here go to page 352 and look at loan rates in table 558.  Corn, cotton, rice wheat, barley sorghum grain and oats all were lowered by Congress in the 1985 farm bill, as shown there, for example.

              "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

              by Iowa Farm Activist on Thu May 19, 2011 at 12:44:28 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Have you ever seen this pdf? Geez, I would (0+ / 0-)

                be ashamed to be a farmer in Iowa.  The place sounds like it was once paradise and is now turned into a cornfield.  What a disaster.

                www.agron.iastate.edu/courses/agron515/Bultenaetal.pdf

                Anyway, like I said in another comment, according to the History of Iowa wiki, Iowa farming concerns have been supported by the U.S. taxpayer since WWI.  It's time to change that.  

                I don't know much about the food movement, but yes, I would like to see sugar prices so low that those SOBs would quit growing it in Florida.  Maybe then the Everglades could be restored.  

                •  I find that your wiki source is wrong, as I (0+ / 0-)

                  commented at the other location. There were no farm commodity subsidies until much later (for corn wheat & feedgrains, 1961, for cotton, 1964 [except for some early ones], for rice 1977, for soybeans, 1998.  See this link and scroll down to "Government Payments:  United States by Program, 1933-2009."

                  "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

                  by Iowa Farm Activist on Fri May 20, 2011 at 11:05:22 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Here's the missing link (0+ / 0-)

                    on Government payments.  It's from USDA's Economic Research Service.

                    "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

                    by Iowa Farm Activist on Fri May 20, 2011 at 11:10:22 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                  •  It starts at 1933. Does that mean it doesn't (0+ / 0-)

                    include the date before then?  Or does it mean there isn't any data before then?

                    •  I think the burden of proof is on you. (0+ / 0-)

                      I've been wrong before.  I once thought that subsidies started in 1973, under Butz, but they started in 1961, etc. as in the link.

                      Ok, so find documentation for farm commodity subsidies during WWI, as wiki claims.  There wasn't a link for that at Wiki, was there?

                      In general, commodity programs started with the New Deal.

                      You can email USDA-ERS or the National Agricultural Library, and they'll help. I'm sure my link includes email addresses for questions at the bottom. Let us know.

                      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

                      by Iowa Farm Activist on Fri May 20, 2011 at 06:04:09 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  The wiki was pretty clear that government (0+ / 0-)

                        became involved after WWI ended, not during as you've been saying, because the demand created by the war evaporated.  With the decreased demand, a surplus arose and prices dropped.

                        •  Yes, during WWI prices were high. There (0+ / 0-)

                          weren't subsidies. Yes, prices crashed.  On this history prior to the New Deal see "George N. Peek and the Fight for Farm Parity."  There were a number of proposals.

                          "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

                          by Iowa Farm Activist on Sat May 21, 2011 at 11:49:08 AM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

        •  Corn is a food crop (0+ / 0-)

          unless you don't consider animal feed to be food.  Before corn, almost all of what Iowa produced, which contained more wheat and oats than now, still went for animal feed.  Iowa's agricultural model has never really changed, ever.  Like most of the midwest and plains, their crop production goes to producing feed grains, because people in urban, middle class societies like meat and dairy more than other less-rich foods.

          •  You're wrong. Table 5.3 clearly shows that (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            eastsidedemocrat

            between 1910 and 1994, crops other than corn, soybeans, oats, hay, etc. dropped from 43% to 27% of farm acreage.

            www.agron.iastate.edu/courses/agron515/Bultenaetal.pdf

            Since 1994, the 27% has probably dropped to 10%.  Your statement that Iowa's agricultural model has never, ever changed is very wrong.

            In 1917, the United States entered World War I and farmers as well as all Iowans experienced a wartime economy. For farmers, the change was significant. Since the beginning of the war in 1914, Iowa farmers had experienced economic prosperity. Along with farmers everywhere, they were urged to be patriotic by increasing their production. Farmers purchased more land and raised more corn, beef, and pork for the war effort. It seemed that no one could lose as farmers expanded their operations, made more money, and at the same time, helped the Allied war effort.

            After the war, however, Iowa farmers soon saw wartime farm subsidies eliminated. Beginning in 1920, many farmers had difficulty making the payment for debts they had incurred during the war. The 1920s were a time of hardship for Iowa's farm families and for many families, these hardships carried over into the 1930s.

            As economic difficulties worsened, Iowa farmers sought to find local solutions. Faced with extremely low farm prices, including corn at ten cents a bushel and pork at three cents a pound, some Iowa farmers joined the Farm Holiday Association. This group, which had its greatest strength in the area around Sioux City, tried to withhold farm products from markets. They believed this practice would force up farm prices. The Farm Holiday Association had only limited success as many farmers did not cooperate and the withholding itself did little to raise prices. Farmers experienced little relief until 1933 when the federal government, as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, created a federal farm aid program.

            This excerpt from the History of Iowa wiki basically says Iowa's agriculture has sucked since WWI.  The U.S. taxpayers have been picking up the tab.  Should this continue for another century?

            And, good Lord, according to the pdf above, Iowa has totally ruined their awesome natural diversity.  Another good reason to become a vegetarian.

            •  Here wikipedia is weak in telling the story. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              eastsidedemocrat

              Farmers didn't get commodity subsidies during World War I, they had higher prices (which only occurred 3 or 4 times during the 20th century). For example, yearly average corn prices (adjusted for inflation) were $16.16 in 1916, $16.12 in 1917, $14.43 in 1918, and $13.98 in 1919.  That compares with recent "record" yearly average prices below $6, or below $5. The price then dropped to $4.61 in 1920 and 4.64 in 1921.  

              (Wiki is also wrong in the link from the history article to where they define "farm subsidies".)

              Agriculture has changed, for example in that livestock was lost from much of the land, (due to low prices that subsidized CAFOs with below cost grain) so pastures and hay ground were plowed up and farmers lost economic reasons for resource conserving crop rotations (with livestock pasture and hay ground).

              Under the family farm system about 7,000 plants were utilized with tens of thousands of variations among them (ie. 10,000 varieties of wheat in China), plus more than 7,000 breeds of livestock.  Biodiversity was greatest where crops and livestock were raised in ecological relationship to each other.  And yes, this has declined greatly, especially under mega-industrial agriculture.  With low prices, we severely damaged these systems, and our cultural farming diversity as well, but all is not lost yet.  If only we can get the food movement on board on these price floor issues.  They already understand many of the problems of low prices.

              "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

              by Iowa Farm Activist on Fri May 20, 2011 at 09:43:39 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  So what we have is industrial production of (0+ / 0-)

                corn at the expense of environmental and agricultural diversity.

                The more I read about Iowa, the more appalled I am.

                Some states were once natural paradises and they were turned into parking lots.  Iowa was a natural paradise and it was turned into a cornfield, one massive cornfield of genetically modified plants.

                You persist in calling them price floors when they are price supports.  Lowering them would discourage corn production.  That would encourage diversity.  That wouldn't be a bad thing.  Raising them would make meat and corn syrup more expensive.  That wouldn't be bad either.

                Instead, let's give other crops, like vegetables, the price supports.  Corn supply would drop, prices would rise.  Badabing, badaboom.  Problem solved.

                •  Lowering price floors would increase corn (0+ / 0-)

                  The opposite would happen with increasing price floors for other commodities.  

                  Corn has a natural advantage over other grains, something that the Native American inhabitants of the Americas knew long before the arrival of Europeans. There is just no plant yet discovered or bred that produces carbohydrates more efficiently in terms of inputs, including human labor, than corn.  This means that lacking price supports for other crops, farming will tend to become ever more dominated by corn.  In fact, we see that happening as price supports have been reduced over the years for farming in general.  Corn becomes more and more profitable relative to other crops.

                  •  This is funny. "No plant yet discovered or bred" (0+ / 0-)

                    Didn't you leave out genetically modified?

                    The only way corn will become "more and more profitable" is if ethanol becomes popular as a fuel.  

                    Remember your previous comment that corn was a food?  It isn't.  It's becoming very similar to coal or oil.  It just skips the hundreds of millions of years being compressed into fossil fuels.

                    farming will tend to become ever more dominated by corn

                    Actually, food farming will be encroached upon by corn/fuel production.  Growing corn for fuel is not farming.

                •  You're missing the supply management part, (0+ / 0-)

                  the need for supply reduction programs (as needed) whenever you have price floors.  Historically, price floors in the US are always associated with supply reductions.  Otherwise the programs would not work.

                  "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

                  by Iowa Farm Activist on Fri May 20, 2011 at 06:06:55 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Supply management? That sounds euphemistic. (0+ / 0-)

                    That means taxpayers pay Big Ag not to grow corn or it means taxpayers get to pay Big Ag for surplus.

                    Its a good thing I'm not a member of Congress from Iowa.  I'd be telling industrial corn producers to hit the highway.  Enough with the socialistic bailouts.

                    I really don't think I'm missing anything.

                    •  Elsewhere in business supply management is taken (0+ / 0-)

                      for granted.  But it doesn't work that way in agriculture.  It doesn't make sense for farmers, with farms that have limited uses and once per year sales and many other factors, to individually try to manage supply. Government help is needed and it doesn't have to be paid. One way of weakening it is when government made it voluntary and paid. It's ineffective and sets the farmers up for blame.  These programs worked int he past, so there doesn't need to be a surplus.

                      The Congressmen from Iowa have long (especially Republicans) told corn farmers to hit the highway.  Reagan suggested keeping the grain and exporting the farmers. His budget director, David Stockman, called for a shakeout.  The Corporate CED Report called for getting rid of 1/3 of farmers within 5 years.  Congress lowered price floors like they wanted, but in about 9 years.  The Congressional corn program is terrible for farmers, and long has been. You're missing what really costs you money, like the US losing money on farm exports for a quarter century, like the destruction of wealth and jobs multipliers, like damage to health, environment and society.

                      Bottom line, you miss the part about how we've had massive reductions in prices and even massive losses before getting subsidies.  This is mentioned rarely in progressive, conservative, or mainstream media subsidy articles, blogs, books, films and short videos.  It's no wonder, then, that you have these misconceptions.  They mention the benefits of subsidies, but not the accompanying losses.  If your were in Congress, you'd be like many others in your understanding of this issue.

                      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

                      by Iowa Farm Activist on Sat May 21, 2011 at 11:34:35 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

            •  Good find, but it actually makes my point (0+ / 0-)

              My argument is that most of Iowa's farmland has pretty much always been, since it became farmland, in the business of growing animal feed.  Soybeans displaced pastureland is what the table you cite shows, not that corn and soybeans displaced vegetables or other food crops.  Whether you're growing crops to feed cows, pigs, and horses, or whether you're growing crops to feed chickens, pigs, steers, and now automobiles is pretty much the same thing.  It's not what you're growing that is the important thing -- it's how you treat the people who grow it, and the land it is grown on, that progressives should be worried about.

              •  It doesn't at all make your point. (0+ / 0-)

                The "other" crops column is not pasture land which is what you seem to be suggesting.

                Who is this "you" in the statement "it's how you treat the people who grow it"?  Taxpayers?  Why do you think this should be a concern of progressives?  Are the people who grow corn concerned about anyone?  Why is it Iowa needs to import most of its fruits and vegetables?  Don't Iowan farmers care about Iowans?

                I would have to disagree with equating corn with food crops.  It isn't even apples and oranges.  It's more like comparing rebar to an apple pie.

                It's been nice chatting.  Before I didn't have much of an opinion about corn.  Now I see that it is evil.

                Here's another interesting article:

                www.leopold.iastate.edu/research/marketing_files/swiowa.pdf

                •  progressive corn farmer activists have long (0+ / 0-)

                  advocated for price ceilings and reserve supplies to protect consumers. They've never been as you portray them.  Here again you're missing the part where corn lack's price responsiveness (supply and demand don't correct themselves) so prices have usually been low, and we've needed price floors and supply management (not subsidies).  Congress took them away to subsidize agribusiness corn buyers.  They got farm more than the amounts for corn in the farm subsidy database.

                  Put those EWG database figures in today's dollars, then add all feedgrain subsidies (corn is the biggest part of that and I don't have figures to separate it out). Feedgrain figures are found here:  scroll down to Government Payments by State and Program.

                  Corn price levels were reduced from parity levels by more than $1.5 trillion (generalizing:  parity price x acres x yield), adjusted for inflation.  All subsidies are somewhere around $200 billion.

                  Your rage is great.  Stop giving a free pass to the real exploiters.  Target them.  See my response here about corporate lobbying, and how they've been against my views consistently and aggressively.

                  "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

                  by Iowa Farm Activist on Sat May 21, 2011 at 11:44:21 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                •  Dude, it is pastureland (0+ / 0-)

                  The "other" crops are mostly pasture.  There just wasn't ever a time when Iowa's farmland was dedicated to growing fruits and vegetables.

                  Why doesn't it grow them in more quantities now?  Not because it can't, as the article you cite demonstrates, but because other areas of the country that cannot grow corn have better soil and weather conditions for fruits and vegetables.

                  Another thing:  fruits and vegetables in the US are what is dominated by large corporate farms and plantations, not corn, which are still mostly individual, family owned farms.  

  •  HansaGruber (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sweeper, flowerfarmer

    I'm on old Iowa gal.  Lived on a hog farm.  Stop it with the whining about the "family farm."  Corporations and family "corporations" own most farms.  They suck up the land for writeoffs.  Iowa is a despicable state for farming.  Just look at your most recent legislation to BAN VIDEO of agricultural abuse. You want the public the subsize YOU?  You have penning (dog training on living wildlife) operations everywhere. You have canned hunt farms where "farmers" inseminate and breed whitetail deers to be sold as trophy bucks.  For heaven's sake - you "farm" whitetail deer which you then pay thousands of dollars to DiNicola and other professional wildlife killers to shoot. Your slaughter houses are ghastly and a byproduct of your factory farming madness. Oh - and those lovely Amish - the "buggy" people that are runners of horse auctions, puppy mill abuses and major breeders of whitetail deer for sale to canned hunt "farms."  I would hesitate to call myself a "farmer" in Iowa - this state has become an abomination for what is lovingly  called "agribusiness" by your Farm Bureau reps.  Iowa has turned agriculture into a horror show.

    •  We're still fighting that video ban. Iowa has (0+ / 0-)

      many agricultural problems but also a long history of fighting against the injustices as can be seen a bit in video here.

      I've been meaning to write a diary about my zip code in the farm subsidy database. The big farmers rent a lot of land, but they're mainly family farmers.  The landlords are often small family farmers.  We still  have the potential for revival.

      On animal welfare and husbandry issues I recommend Denny Caneff’s “Sustaining Land, People, Animals and Communities: The Case for Livestock in a Sustainable Agriculture,” Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

      Keep in mind that 80% of the "undernourished" are rural and most of them depend on agriculture, including livestock.  This is often especially true for the poorest among them.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 09:37:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The case for price floors (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti

    has me confused since in your other diaries you've stated you are against farm subsidies in principle.  Perhaps I've misunderstood.  But as a progressive activist involved in localized, small scale vegetarian food production using fewer fossil fuel inputs, I've already been labeled as hypocritical and ignorant in your diary.

    Here's my understanding of price floors for food commodities and who benefits-

    Let's start with what the USDA is predicting will happen this year.  Bumper crops in wheat and corn.  In that case, with record yields anticipated,  there would be less quantity demanded (consumed) than quantity supplied (produced).  The result is a surplus.  

    If the surplus is allowed to be in the market then the price would actually drop below the equilibrium, that being where demand and supply would naturally intersect.  All price floors must exist above the equilibrium in order to have any meaning. Given the price floor and a production surplus, the government do the following.

    1. They can purchase the entire surplus. For a while the US government bought grain surpluses in the US and then gave all the grain to Africa. This might have been nice for African consumers, but it drove African farmers out of business and created the current dependency cycle that threatens to starve whole populations during lean low yield years.  This is an example of unintended consequence that is creating real human misery in the third world.

    2. They can strictly enforce the price floor and let the surplus go to waste. This means that the suppliers that are able to sell their goods are better off while those who can't sell theirs (because of lack of demand) will be worse off.   Since some farm concerns will have product that cannot be legally sold below the price floor, the product would have to be destroyed.  In this scenario, large agribusiness has an advantage in being the selling supplier due to their ability to hoard or convert products into a longer term storable commodity until prices recover above the floor (ie ethanol, HFCS).

    3. Supply destruction.  Here, the government can control how much is produced. To prevent too many suppliers from producing, the government can give out production rights or pay people not to produce. Giving out production rights in this situation will result in the advantage again going to large agribusiness due to lobbying prowess. The worst result of this policy is as the government pays people not to produce, then producers will inflate production capacity and ask to be payed accordingly.  

    4. They can also subsidize consumption. To get consumers to purchase more of the surplus, the government can pay part of the costs. This is how things are handled in countries such as Mexico and Egypt, where bread is available at pennies a loaf.  This is not a farm subsidy per se but a bread entitlement.  We both know who will lobby hard against this type of solution.  It's not people who would like cheap bread.

    I welcome your comments regarding my failures to understand farm subsidies as I am always willing to learn.  If taxpayer dollars are going to help farmers, I would prefer programs that support things like community gardens, small scale organic farming and cruelty free non-factory farming of animals.

    "Welcome to Costco, I love you" -- Greetings from "Idiocracy"

    by martinjedlicka on Wed May 18, 2011 at 03:01:01 PM PDT

    •  basically... (0+ / 0-)

      ...a price floor is not a subsidy.  It is the lowest price that can be paid in the marketplace for a specific commodity- and it is paid by the buyer to the producer (farmer).

      a subsidy is much more complicated and varied, but for our simple discussion about grain subsidies, at the producer (farmer) level, if the price falls below a certain rate, the buyer still pays the lower "free market" rate and the federal government makes up the difference to the producer (farmer).

      This is my basic understanding and I will gladly allow someone to correct me if I am confused.  after all, it is a confusing subject- and I do not know a single farmer who is not confused about the current farm program.

      •  Producing more than is needed is lousy for (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        emptythreatsfarm, martinjedlicka

        the environment.

        •  It's even worse (0+ / 0-)

          for an African farmer when his market is flooded with our dumped surplus crops.

          Cows cause more damage to the environment that cars.  That's not an endorsement for cars, it's a condemnation of the factory farmed beef industry

          "Welcome to Costco, I love you" -- Greetings from "Idiocracy"

          by martinjedlicka on Wed May 18, 2011 at 09:10:26 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Cows and other livestock can also be great (0+ / 0-)

            for the environment, as they have a tremendous ability to transform grass into food, so land need not be tilled, and can be grazed in sustainable ways, which are also most productive in the short run and long run, as they lead to the greatest production of grass per square foot.

            "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

            by Iowa Farm Activist on Fri May 20, 2011 at 11:08:19 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Cows can graze on diverse native prairies. (0+ / 0-)

            About all of the full biodiversity of nature (in some ecosystems) can be preserved in livestock systems.

            "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

            by Iowa Farm Activist on Fri May 20, 2011 at 06:09:35 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  the price floor sets the stage (0+ / 0-)

        for government programs which outright purchase and dump surplus crops on the third world or which pay producers to not grow crops.  That's what government does  in order to enforce the legal minimum price upon the market.  

        Paying a producer the difference between market price and floor price is the current method of enforcing  a price floor and is a direct subsidy. Either way, my point is these programs benefit the interest of large agribusiness in that they stifle competition, making the large investments of big agra more profitable and less risky.   Small farmers lack commodities trading desks that are adept at gaming government market interference.  The consumer pays higher prices for groceries and the third world starves from a boom/bust cycle of dumping surplus grain.

        I'm confused by all this as well, but I have a dog's nose for a lobbyist pitch when I hear it.

        "Welcome to Costco, I love you" -- Greetings from "Idiocracy"

        by martinjedlicka on Wed May 18, 2011 at 09:08:13 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  what you say is false. Corporate lobbists (0+ / 0-)

          oppose the views I've set forth and Price floors do not set any such "stage."  They do the opposite.  They raise prices to stop dumping.  The government manages supply to prevent surpluses, but also keeps reserve supplies to protect against shortages. The payments you describe do not happen today, as we have no floor prices. When we had that system prior to 1996, it was an unneeded subsidy (as price floors could simply have been raised), but it was not a method of "enforcing a price floor."

          The "lobbist pitch" is the opposite of what I'm arguingas you can see in documentation here and in the push of Cargill and friends (not farmers,) in their "Agricultural Policy Working Group" for the subsidy programs described in "The 'De-Coupled' Approach to Agriculture," by IATP.  (See a related link here, search "decoupling".)

          See also a description of the corporate lobbying of the The Coalition for a Competitive Food and Agricultural System (CCFAS) by scrolling down here.

          Another example of corporate lobbying against my views, that of the "Farm Coalition Group," go here.

          "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

          by Iowa Farm Activist on Fri May 20, 2011 at 10:09:51 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  I'm for progressives, local food, much less fossil (0+ / 0-)

      fuel usage and lots of fruits and vegetables. I'm for raising farm commodity prices to help support all of this.

      My key response to you is that farm prices lack price responsiveness on both supply and demand sides, as agricultural economist Daryll Ray discusses in 1 page or so columns here and here.  This then is a rebuttal to your equilibrium argument, and what follows from it. It doesn't work that way in agriculture, for a variety of reasons. Scott Marlow discusses some of these reasons in a video here and in the other 4 videos on the list.

      The way supply management has usually worked is that farmers set aside some land from production and planted it to a resource conserving cover crop.  This need not be paid.  

      There has been interest in Europe in supply management, but that was suppressed, as here.  The Africa Group at WTO and La Via Campesina have also supported it and price floors. We should be getting agreements for world wide participation.  It's then easier politically.

      I don't think the US government ever purchased all the surplus and gave the grain to Africa, though they did some of this, and I agree that we need ways that are good for African farmers. The government did maintain reserve supplies, but then tried to prevent further surpluses through acreage reductions.  I recommend IATP's "U.S. Food Aid: Time to Get it Right."

      You might be interested in IATP's "A Fair Farm Bill for the World's Hungry."

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 10:03:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Maybe I sorta understand (0+ / 0-)

    but the end result seems as absurd as the situation—in a way like the Woody Allen joke, that he can't tell his brother that he isn't a chicken, because they need the eggs. In this case, it seems like a situation where there is a congressman who has one of these rural communities in his district that depends on a local penitentiary for employment; so we'll have to be working to keep up urban arrest quotas so that they will have a prison population to supervise.

    •  Ok, which end result is that? (0+ / 0-)

      I don't quite understand.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 10:05:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The end result (0+ / 0-)

        in which we have a dumb setup that you advise continuing because you can't see the political will to reform it. So we wind up paying out a great deal of money to those who don't deserve it, in order that we can give a much smaller amount to those that do. Much like military bases and prisons, neither of which qualify as efficient uses of tax funds if they don't serve their original primary purposes. That end result.

        •  Yes, I see, great point. (0+ / 0-)

          I guess it's a sort of satirical comment on how the food movement has lost touch with it's roots in the family farm movement.  The food movement has misunderstood these issues, and an alternative paradigm has developed.  So it's what people know that ain't so that's so challenging to address, as can be seen in comments here. You can read food movement reviews for more on this question here ("Movement/Media Reviews).

          Another concern related to this, however, is that the stage has been set for a massive US farm disaster that will be devastating to a wide range of progressive food movement goals.  This has hardly been touched on by comments here.  It's the part about how there have been no cost of production increases in subsidy triggers, as in the numerical part in my second to last paragraph.

          For another view, a view of the need for subsidies by African American Farmers you might look at an op-ed here and the report behind it here.  It too is a sort of balancing act.

          "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

          by Iowa Farm Activist on Thu May 19, 2011 at 12:56:14 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  this is one of the best diaries... (0+ / 0-)

    ...that I have read here in a long time.

    That is probably because it is about policy and facts, and little about political pointscoring.  And that is probably why there is some resistance to it in general; it is confronting our own ignorance of the issue- and the solutions that many assume will work.

    There are huge misconceptions about farm policy- not the least of which is that there are some who think that the government not being involved is an option.  That policy, of course, would take us back to before the dawn of history.

    •  Thanks. Yes, for example, on government (0+ / 0-)

      not being involved some think that it's progressive to just get rid of subsidies and get the government out of farm policy, but that doesn't work because farm prices don't self correct in free markets. I think this issue has not been well discussed in the food movement, even without the issues I raise.  There has been confusion, I think, along the lines of: sort of having subsidies but not too much.  I've tried to clarify that question.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Wed May 18, 2011 at 10:09:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I don't see how farm subsidies will bring better (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    martinjedlicka

    food.  Good food is not subsidized as far as I can tell.

    It is only the commodity factory farm types of foods that are subsidized like the corn and hogs you speak about.

  •  Low prices? (0+ / 0-)

    With increased population, more people moving to animal proteins, climate change, and use of food to produce energy, how is there any danger of low grain prices?

    GOP: Bankers, billionaires and suckers.

    by gzodik on Wed May 18, 2011 at 07:50:03 PM PDT

    •  Oh, not to mention (0+ / 0-)

      aquifer depletion?

      GOP: Bankers, billionaires and suckers.

      by gzodik on Wed May 18, 2011 at 07:55:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Mainstream media has greatly supported your view (0+ / 0-)

      so here's the answer.

      First, from history, if you lived through the 1970s farm price spike as a family farm activist, and heard all of the rhetoric from Earl Butz (Nixon's ag secretary), and then lived through the quarter century of low farm prices, concluding with the lowest prices in history, then you'd be very skeptical of those mainstream media views.  Butz and other free traders insisted that prices would always be high from then on.  Wow, look at all the people we had, all the demand, etc. But that never happened.

      With a half century of reduced export prices and a quarter century of dumping below full costs, (USDA-ERS Commodity Costs and Returns), then we (our approach of losing money on our farm exports) greatly impoverished many farming countries (such as Least Developed Countries, which are 70% rural).  With some higher farm prices, they could very well make investments that greatly increase production below their low very typical production levels.  That's true across vast regions worldwide.

      In slide #8 of a presentation (slides in pdf) on "Food Demand and Population Growth: Can Agriculture Keep Up?" Daryll E. Ray of APAC at the University of Tennessee shows where we can find another 950 million acres of farmland to feed the world. That land can be put into production if there's some money to do it.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Fri May 20, 2011 at 10:34:26 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Why subsidies for corn and sugar but not veggies? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Utahrd, martinjedlicka

    If I am not mistaken many farmers do have price supports. It depends on what they grow. Wouldn't people diversify out of pure corn, soybeans  and sugar if they they become more risky.

    I was a real estate agent. No one guaranteed me any base income. It can be done.  

    •  That's a good question. (0+ / 0-)

      Sugar has price floors.  

      The problem is that it's hard to diversify out of the major crops when the whole group of them has bad policies and programs. Oats has been even worse than corn and soybeans. Also with the bad policies and cheap feeds farms have lost livestock, so that aspect of diversity, with various kinds of livestock, and with pastures, hay etc. is much less of an option. Then we've lost a lot of sale barns.  We've had only 1 state inspected chicken processor in the eastern 3/4 of Iowa, and we lost our federally inspected plant which was also available for small producers starting to diversify.  Our elevator quit buying oats and mixing feed. Farmers markets often require huge marketing costs, and there aren't enough customers to support very many full time farmers and it may take several years to get in. Organic markets and premiums have also been reduced in recent years, after growing for decades.  For example, the CROPP cooperative, that buys hogs and dairy couldn't take new people on. Many farms are not well suited for some of the options, for example in hilly areas near rivers here that have traditionally been dairy areas.   Low prices (and livestock to CAFOs) have led farmers to but all their eggs in few baskets, with giant equipment that is only used for corn and soybeans, rather than smaller, flexible use systems.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Thu May 19, 2011 at 01:08:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  What is your take on CREP? (0+ / 0-)

        This is a program that takes land out of production near streams, converting it to native plants. It has been used in in Oregon to increase  shade and reduce herbicide and pesticide inputs to salmon  streams.

  •  Cheaper High Fructose Corn Syrup (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    martinjedlicka

    Just what we need to cure the obesity problem in this country.

    We might as well hand out subsidies to opium farmers and heroin dealers.  At least Smack doesn't cause diabetes.

  •  And how much of that subsidy went to (0+ / 0-)

    Congress people? I believe Grassley got over $250K over the past ten years. Another example where Democrats need to require Republicans to live with the consequences of their ideology: no government welfare handouts. After all, the free market is the solution, they tell us, along with "we're broke." But when it comes to a handout for them, then things are just fine and dandy. Don't even get me started on the geographic imbalance of these subsidies. Time to just say no to farm subsidies.

    When I perceive the fight to be rigged, I don't wanna grow up. The Ramones

    by tgrshark13 on Wed May 18, 2011 at 08:10:00 PM PDT

    •  Yes, if Republicans can support these farm bills (0+ / 0-)

      they can support about anything ideologically. And they have long supported them.  America lost money on farm exports to subsidize corps. with cheap commodities.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Thu May 19, 2011 at 01:10:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm a small scale commodities producer. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    emptythreatsfarm, martinjedlicka

    The Direct Payment is an obscenity in high price years. Simply more welfare  proportionately for the mega farms.  Corn and soybean Direct Payments are what, $6 billion a year? Corn is over $6/bu. and beans over $12.50. It's like asking would you like some caviar with that Cadillac, Mr. Megafarmer?

    Inevitably the commodities bubble will burst. And then price supports will be needed. But by then, throwing  unneeded  big bucks  to the big boys and girls will have soured the public on any form of price supports.

    Get rid of the Direct Payment. Make it available only as part of the CCP like it was before the 1996 farm program. Raise the Target Price to roughly the cost of production. It's not fucking rocket science.

    •  remove the externalities (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dirtfarmer

      I'm convinced that if we could include the environmental damage industrial agriculture creates with its factory farms, and took away the distortions created by a half-century of cheap food policy, the family-scale farm would have a fighting chance again.

      Back in the 1980s, my folks went from raising green beans, sweet corn, field corn, oats, barley, hay, hogs, soybeans, and wheat to the less sustainable corn-beans rotation.

      They didn't want to do it, but it made the most sense economically.  They knew that having a more diversified farm was better for the land, and frankly, more interesting, but they had to go with the flow.

      The system has been simplified and overcapitalized to the point that when someone  perfects the functional robotic tractor (and I'm sure its coming), we can get rid of all the surviving family farmers.

      So what would you do to make sure the safety net remains for family farmers without enriching what we call "land hogs" around these parts?

      •  I'm a lot like your folks in terms of diversity. (0+ / 0-)

        I still do a little wheat , sorghum (milo) and hay but corn and beans pay the bills. But a few years ago I decided that I was going to grow a big garden and get some good, chemical free veggies and fruit out there to local farmers markets. The work trashed my already bad back and I ended up spending more money on cortisone injections in my spine  than I made on the garden. But I continued and I really enjoy gardening and farmers markets even though the money is negligible.

        To answer your question: enforce the multiple entity rule so that corporate clans can't avoid the payment limits. Institute a sort of reverse progressive payment system where subsidies decline and are cut off beyond a certain net income level. The big  guys would scream but everyone is already required to file a form with the FSA that allows the IRS to determine program eligibility. Don't know what the income level should be for the cutoff point. What do you think?

        There are probably better ideas. Give me your thoughts and I'll respond tomorrow. Gotta sleep now. Thanks for the response.

    •  Your analogies are popular but unfair. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      eastsidedemocrat, dirtfarmer

      Also you leave out "the big boys and girls."  Why?  Is it that that's what you've been taught to say in your part of the movement or by the mainstream media?

      Prices were so low for so long that Direct Payments didn't look so bad.  What farmers have received has never been caviar and Cadillac.  It's the missing "big boys and girls," the buyers, that get benefits way way above anything farmers have ever received.  What they get is many times bigger than the biggest coop in the farm subsidy database.  Cargill alone gets many times more than that (15x?) just on corn exports.  But it's benefits cross many commodities used for many purposes and across many countries, plus Cargill's CAFOs and input benefits.

      Even smaller big buyers get more than 5x above what the biggest co-op (with 9,000 members) in EWG's farm subsidy database gets.  And for the coop they're compensations for massive reductions and a quarter century below full costs, while for the buyers it piles on top of record profits and returns on equity.  

      You're missing the biggest part of the problem.  And that's true almost everywhere in the food movement and mainstream media.  Thus my blogging here.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Thu May 19, 2011 at 01:21:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I've grown commodities for 35 years. (0+ / 0-)

        I've walked the talk. I'm a small producer who has struggled to survive and I've given much thought to these issues. I actually do this for a living rather than talk about it. For you to begin your reply by suggesting I get talking points from the "movement" or the mainstream media is not only insulting but  perhaps says more about your level of intelligence than mine.

        I'm sure you're aware that the Direct Payment was separated from the Target Price in the '96 farm bill and is made in both high and low price years. Until then it would have only kicked in during low  price years as part of  what was called the deficiency payment. Without the creation of the Direct Payment it would still have existed as part of the  CCP in low price years, when it is needed. It is not needed or justifiable in the last four year run of good prices.

        As a low estimate it has cost the taxpayers an extra $5 billion a year or $20 billion in the last four years. And most of it has gone to the mega farms. It is indeed caviar and Cadillacs for them. $20 billion, in what is essentially welfare money simply for being a farmer, has had  very negative effects. It has given  money to the large farms to bid up cash rent, drive up land prices to bubble levels and make it almost impossible for the young to ever hope to own a farm unless they're born wealthy. It's given the large farms even more money to expand their machinery lines and tech gadgets to the competitive disadvantage of smaller farmers. In the last four years the Direct Payment has helped accelerate the race to the bottom, where only the biggest survive.

        You say I left out the real "big boys and girls" in the larger view. Yes, it's true that the Merchants of Grain make out like bandits and so do the funds and the banksters as they play the Casino known as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. It's a fucking crooked game and they rake in obscene bucks. But the farm bill can't address export subsidies, that's a matter taken up in WTO negotiations and the obscene fund profits and speculative market distortions (ever try relying on chart analysis or supply and demand fundamentals and make a buck lately on the Board?) are a matter for the SEC to take up. Your link, while accurate, is from a 2004 study in Canada when prices were extremely low.

        Your argument that a currently unneeded Direct Payment isn't as large or as bad as the subsidies the grain buyers and exporters get doesn't make it a good subsidy. It just makes it a smaller amount of needlessly expended taxpayer money, a smaller bad subsidy.

        You claim that it's impossible politically to raise price floors. Why? Wouldn't it be easier to convince the public of a need for a higher Target Price near the cost of production rather than continuing a Direct Payment that amounts to welfare for wealthy farmers in high price years? Had Target Prices been raised in the '08 farm bill to the cost of production, commodity subsidies would have cost taxpayers less than the Direct Payment

        I'm in favor of price supports. Crop insurance and price supports have helped keep many of us in business. But the Direct Payment just further tilts an already uneven playing field in favor of the wealthy.

        •  Thanks for the detailed response. (0+ / 0-)

          A main purpose of mine is to show how the food movement misunderstands key points (and advocates on the wrong side, unknowingly,) even as their values are the same as mine. That's why I pointed out similarities with your views, but I see you are your own source, etc.

          I strongly agree that this (adequate price floors, supply management, reserves, etc.) can be won politically, especially with the huge food movement, but that's not happening yet, in what I see at food related blogs like (relevant sections of) Civil Eats, Grist, change.org, La Vida Locavore, food/farm videos at YouTube, Simple Good and Tasty, Common Dreams, Alternet (food), the food leaders comments at the recent Washington Post conference, comments on food articles in the New York Times, etc.  Meanwhile, with lower prices and the 2008 reduced subsidy triggers, we could quickly and irreversibly lose the family farmers who could accomplish the major food movement goals (if we could give them some great farm policy).

          We can address dumping in the farm bill (vs WTO), with price floors, etc.

          On Direct Payments, we would have always needed them overall (for corn, wheat, rice, cotton, soybeans, sorghum grain, barley, oats) every single year 1981-2006, except 1996 when corn had a good year.  On the other hand, I agree with what you say about how stupid they are, since we never really needed them (we could have raised price floors).

          You might want to read 2 articles by Tim Wise linked here on the recent higher prices.  It relates to the caviar and Cadillac's point.

          "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

          by Iowa Farm Activist on Fri May 20, 2011 at 10:58:38 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Apologies for my tone at the beginning of my (0+ / 0-)

        previous comment. That was rude.

        The Canadian NFU report is accurate. I understand and agree with all of its conclusions.

        But I still think the direct payment is a bad idea politically and that raising the target price is a better approach.

        •  I much prefer aggressive comments to non (0+ / 0-)

          answers and silence. You put a lot out there and I think that's great.

          "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

          by Iowa Farm Activist on Fri May 20, 2011 at 10:42:19 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  how about subsidizing (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dirtfarmer, eastsidedemocrat

    localized, small scale, organic, cruelty-free food production?

    How about increasing aid to third world farmers and developing local, sustainable farms as opposed to dumping our surplus grain in order to maintain corporations like ADM's profit margins?

    How about giving the money to sponsor community gardens, sustainable agriculture, research on growing food with less fossil fuel and chemical inputs?

    The diarist is basically arguing for continued government support of the production of chicken nuggets and big macs.  These are the pinnacle of agribusiness and it's a horrifying legacy that America is bringing to the world- a poisonous processed diet that manages to kill both the consumer and the planet that produces it.

     I'll sooner support oil subsidies that agribusiness subsidies.  Thanks to ethanol, they're becoming one and the same.

    "Welcome to Costco, I love you" -- Greetings from "Idiocracy"

    by martinjedlicka on Wed May 18, 2011 at 09:19:12 PM PDT

    •  I'm opposing chicken nuggets and big macs, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      eastsidedemocrat

      not supporting them. I'm increasing benefits to third world farmers (by opposing cheap prices and dumping) and developing local sustainable farms (by opposing cheap prices that make CAFOs able to compete with grassfed).

      To merely oppose farm subsidies (as is usually done in the food movement) is to do nothing about the fact that farm prices are usually low in free markets so price floors are needed. You then support agribusiness buyers and CAFOs, massively, and globally, by supporting cheap raw materials that subsidize them.  That support is much bigger than government subsidies.  Of course, I'm calling for price floors instead of subsidies, except in the short run your goals will be massively set back if market conditions are anything like they were following the 1970s price spike.

      "We're trying to warn this nation of a tidal wave ..., and it's coming your way, whether you want to know it or not...!" family farm woman, Donahue Show, 1985

      by Iowa Farm Activist on Thu May 19, 2011 at 01:30:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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