Conservation, not subsidy

House farm bill: New approach needed to aid smaller farmers and environment, not agribusiness.

October 02, 2001

THE 1996 Freedom to Farm law tried to wean farmers from a tradition of government support and overproduction. It didn't happen, as transition payments became permanent and "emergency" aid created even higher subsidies.

The new $171 billion House farm bill would increase those subsidies over the next decade, giving more money to larger, wealthier farm owners at the expense of smaller farmers.

That is utter nonsense: paying higher subsidies for more crops that aren't needed, driving up farm costs and squeezing more family farmers out of business.

The Bush administration says it wants a markedly different farm program. So do Senate leaders.

A number of House members are also unhappy with the old-style bill that will come to a vote this week. They plan amendments that will cut subsidies and help more farmers, focus on land and water conservation, protect more farmland from developers' pressures and restore wetlands.

Maryland's Rep. Wayne Gilchrest is a leader in that floor fight, along with Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin. Their proposal would reduce commodity subsidies while putting over $5 billion a year into voluntary land-conservation programs that are vital to smaller farmers. It would add money to protect water quality from manure and pesticide pollution, a major concern in Maryland. Environmental farmland management is crucial to restoring the quality of the Chesapeake Bay.

These conservation incentives would help many Maryland farmers to resist economic pressures to sell their land to developers.

The powerful farm lobby may still triumph in the House, as leaders threaten to kill the entire bill if the conservation amendments win. That would benefit most of the nation's farmers, and taxpayers, allowing another chance to draft a rational farm bill.

The country can't afford such costly, wasteful crop subsidies when the national priorities are strengthening the nation's economy and defenses in the war against terrorism.

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