Magazine article Sierra

Future Farms of America: An Ag Policy That Saves Land and Livelihoods. (Lay of the Land)

Magazine article Sierra

Future Farms of America: An Ag Policy That Saves Land and Livelihoods. (Lay of the Land)

Article excerpt

What do George W. Bush, the Sierra Club, and the World Trade Organization have in common? All three want the United States to phase out its costly federal crop subsidies, replacing them with more enlightened assistance to farmers.

Currently subsidies are doled out based on volume of production rather than need, and in only a few instances with environmental concerns in mind. The result is that more than 80 percent of federal cash payments go to a quarter of the country's 2 million farms, mostly large grain and cotton growers in the South and Midwest. According to the USDA, these payments induce farmers to grow 25 million acres more corn and soybeans than the country needs, driving prices down and small farms out of business.

Every five years or so, Congress passes a farm bill that maps out how and where it will support agriculture and what it expects in return. The current law, passed in 1996, expires this fall. It was ostensibly written to finally wean agriculture from Depression-era price supports, but those same subsidies reemerged virtually untouched each year as emergency appropriations.

In a new twist, the White House has defied long-standing Republican tradition and called for an overhaul of the farm payment system. The Bush administration wants more bang for its billions, with increased emphasis on egalitarian incentive programs that benefit any farm that takes steps to prevent erosion or runoff.

The administration is more concerned about protecting international trade than streamside habitats, but few environmentalists are complaining. …

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