Magazine article Insight on the News

Waste & Abuse

Magazine article Insight on the News

Waste & Abuse

Article excerpt

reedom to Farm Becomes Freedom From Failure

The Freedom to Farm Act of 1996 was supposed to "free" American farmers from the straitjacket of centrally planned, heavily subsidized, Depression-era federal agriculture programs and policies. It was to usher in a new era in which entrepreneurial farm growers could fend for themselves by responding to the free market. For taxpayers, too, it was supposed to mean "freedom" promising liberation from underwriting the huge subsidies that for decades had been propping up programs.

But, in fact, it has done neither, as taxpayer subsidization of agriculture has increased steadily ever since. Direct federal assistance to farmers and ranchers soared to $28 billion last year, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman recently reported, from totals of $16.6 billion in fiscal 1999 and $7.8 billion in fiscal 1996 -- the year farmers supposedly were set free. As a result, nearly half (42 percent) of net agricultural income last year came courtesy of taxpayers, according to department statistics, making that sector of the economy more dependent on financial help than it's been since 1984, when crooner Willie Nelson cranked up the Farm Aid charity concert tours that continue to this day.

"I've no doubt that without the [federal] government, tens of thousands of farmers would have been forced out of business" Glickman told reporters in a recent briefing. "There would have been chaos in American fanning." The most dependent farmers were those growing so-called "program crops" -- wheat, corn, cotton and rice -- many of whom had used the "freedoms" granted them in 1996 merely to switch from planting one subsidized crop to another. But instead of seeking creative ways to reduce the dependency of America's welfare farmers, as we've done with her welfare mothers and fathers, all Glickman seemed in the interview to offer as a solution was an expansion of the "safety net" in which rural America already is hopelessly ensnared. "I remain concerned that the 1996 farm bill has left our farmers without an adequate safety net in tough times" he said. "This year, Congress and the administration worked together to strengthen crop insurance, an increasingly important tool for farmers forced to contend with often difficult conditions beyond their control. …

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