Readers respond to "Farming for Federal Dollars"

A relatively easy and painless fix is there for farm payments: Simply target them to the working farmers of modest means who, by and large, are struggling to survive. That could be accomplished by first putting a cap on payments, perhaps $100,000 per farm, thus multibillion-dollar payments to large agribusinesses would no longer take place, which would reduce the amount spent each year by the government dramatically.

Then Congress could place a needs test to determine eligibility. If you lose your job but own a $2 million home, there is no way you can qualify for welfare. The same should be in place for farmers. On average, farmers' wealth exceeds that of non-farmers. If farmers have millions or billions in net worth, it would not seem appropriate to shower them with billions in subsidies while the citizenry in cities are losing their homes, with no public help whatsoever.

What are the odds of putting caps on payments and targeting farm payments to those who truly need them? Virtually none. Farm policy is written by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, and they are heavily influenced by organizations representing large farmers and agribusinesses. And the public, by and large, has little interest in farm policy, because it is so incredibly difficult to understand, and for some reason, farmers still can rely upon pastoral images many have for them, images that go back 50 years.

Comment by Edward Clark
from Minneapolis

I do not doubt that there are abuses to the system and that the laws have morphed over time. I do, however, disagree that it was set up, as a result of the depression, to help poor farmers. That may be partially true. It was more in response to the Dust Bowl, which occurred during and worsened the depression.

The dust bowl was caused by a combination of dry conditions and overuse of land. There were no root structures to hold down the dirt and it was blown away. It also brought attention to the fact that topsoil was being worn out by several years of growing crops that did not replenish the soil as well as erosion (i.e., this is how deltas are formed). Topsoil is formed from the growth and death and decay of (mostly) plants and animals. It was at that time that people realized that America's rich land was finite and must be managed.

When these programs were first set up, the land set aside was said to be in a "soil bank." This was done as an incentive to get farmers to let some land sit idle. Since farmers depend on their crops to make a living, they could not afford or perhaps would not do this on their own.

I would need to know more about the specific programs referred to in the article to make my own judgment about their value. Land that is used to grow crops depletes the topsoil. Land that is covered with concrete or is densely populated does not deplete it, however it does not grow it, either. Land that is densely covered with vegetation can grow inches of topsoil in a decade (that is where dirt comes from; a backyard gardener does this by composting).

It is better for future generations to keep this land idle, so even if these people are wealthy they are still adding to topsoil, even if that is not their motive. We as Americans take this valuable resource for granted. Lack of topsoil has more to do with a country's wealth or poverty that its gold (Africa for example).

Comment by Becky
from Minneapolis

Well, City Pages, you've really exposed yourselves as imbeciles here. On one hand it's great that you've brought much-needed attention to outrageous farm subsidies, which absolutely need to stop. But as a small organic farmer, I couldn't believe your stupidity in attacking the CRP program.

I use the word "stupidity" because it's hard to call a college-educated writer "ignorant." You ought to have enough education to understand the complexities of ecology and the need for hunting as the only viable form of wildlife management available to us.

I have never received a government subsidy for anything. I raise sheep, cattle, and produce. Mainly I sell at farmers' markets. Most of the farmers in my area (western Minnesota) leave no habitat for wildlife. If they can till it, hay it, or run cattle on it, they will. The precious conservation-minded few who are willing to restore native prairie and wetlands deserve the money they get from the government. Without CRP there would be no ducks nesting in western Minnesota. So many wetlands are being tilled and filled in for agricultural uses that the ducks and geese are actually altering their migration routes, which had previously been in place for tens of thousands of years. The DNR can't handle everything. Private landowners who help out are doing the natural world a big favor.

Again, it boggles my mind, and I just have to can you be so stupid with regard to hunting? Do you not understand that hunting is a natural part of being human?

Comment by JB
from Montevideo

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