Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Trimming Subsidies for Farms Could Help the Environment

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Trimming Subsidies for Farms Could Help the Environment

Article excerpt

If Congress and the Clinton administration are serious about balancing the federal budget, the country's farm programs cannot be ignored as a source of savings -- with the benefit that environmental protection can be strengthened as a result.

Over the past decade, Uncle Sam has spent more than $135 billion to subsidize corn, wheat, sorghum, barley, oats, rice, and cotton. The five-year Farm Bill of 1990 started out with a price tag of $42 billion, but is likely to cost $57 billion.

But according to a recent study by the World Resources Institute "the United States has not gotten its money's worth from its fiscal investment in the farm programs."

"The bulk of the subsidies go to those who need them least. They do not contribute in a major way to rural development. And they promote farm practices that damage the environment," says Paul Faeth, who led the three-year study.

Among such practices, Mr. Faeth notes, are monoculture (single-crop farming), which depends on inorganic fertilizer and pesticides.

American Farmland Trust, a conservation group headed by rancher Ralph Grossi, recently called for a cap on price and income support programs. "Commodity program cost overruns must be ended if Congress is to get the cost of agriculture programs under control," the group states in its 1995 Farm Bill proposals.

Earlier this year, a coalition of environmental and fiscally conservative groups headed by Friends of the Earth and the National Taxpayers Union issued its "Green Scissors" report. Included in the recommended five-year savings were the elimination of $4.2 billion in irrigation subsidies to grow surplus crops, plus millions of dollars more on below-cost timber sales, federal export marketing of agricultural products, below-market grazing fees on federal land, and price supports for sugar crops -- much of which go to large corporations. …

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