Not every American farmer relies on federal subsidies. Watermelon, potato, garlic, berry, and other produce farmers have stuck it out on their own and done well; their crops bring in $52 billion a year, about half the agricultural value of the United States. But increased foreign competition has them scared, so now they’re pleading for special treatment in the next agriculture bill. Among other favors, they want federal money for advertising overseas and land conservation.
Their main problem? Other farmers. Any help they might get is likely to come out of the same pot of money now given to growers of staple food. Corn and wheat farmers have enjoyed federal support since the Great Depression, and they aren’t anxious to hand a couple billion of “their” dollars to people who grow pansies, grapes, and lemons.
Producers contend they’re not looking for direct handouts, just some extra cash for marketing and research. After all, they say, everyone else gets a slice of the pie. In a November speech Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns agreed, arguing that produce growers should get the same treatment as corn and wheat farmers if our farm policy is to be “equitable, predictable and beyond challenge.”