Farm Subsidies

The New Farm Bill Is Going To Suck

Just like the last one. And the one before that. And the one before that.


Edwin Remsberg/agefotostock/Newscom

The quinquennial tragedy that is the Farm Bill is currently winding its way through Congress. Members of a joint House-Senate conference committee are beginning work to coalesce respective House and Senate versions of the bill before bringing the finished product to a vote by the end of September.

However the finished product turns out—whether a perfect marriage or one that nods more to the House or Senate version—this year's Farm Bill will suck. Just like the last one. And the one before that. And the one before that.

There was hope, thanks to bipartisan support, that Congress would cap farm subsidies (in the form of taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance) paid to many of America's wealthiest farmers. As I lamented earlier this year, those hopes were already on life support. Now, they're dead.

"An unusual coalition of libertarians, free-marketers[,] and environmentalists hoped this farm bill cycle would be the one to rein in subsidies for wealthy farmers," Politico reported this week. Despite good efforts, the coalition's efforts were for naught.

It's worth noting, though, that libertarians, free-marketers (including, um, libertarians), and environmentalists banding together to fight crappy farm bills isn't the least bit "unusual." These groups work together to fight back against wasteful Farm Bill excesses every five years, as I've noted many times, including in this 2012 column and in my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable.

In any case, the coalition was no match, as Politico reported elsewhere, for a more powerful coalition, one featuring top Democratic and Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, including speaker Paul Ryan (R–Wisc.), minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.), and agriculture committee chairman Mike Conaway (R–Texas).

The defeat of subsidy reform comes as new analysis reveals yet another way that farm subsidies are an abomination.

The analysis, published this week by the Daily Yonder, a rural news site, reveals that eight of the top 10 congressional districts for farm subsidies—in terms of dollars per year—are represented in Congress by members of the party of fiscal restraint. Top among the group is the statewide district of North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer (R–N.D.): the farmers in his district receive more than $381 million in subsidies per year.

Playing with that data yields some absurd results. For example: All told, North Dakota receives more than $500 in subsidies for every state resident. North Dakota farms received an average of more than $15,000 per year in federal farm subsidies. Perhaps most galling is this: if subsidies were a crop, then USDA data show that North Dakota's hardworking subsidy farmers would be the state's fourth largest in terms of the dollar value of their production—trailing only soybeans, wheat, corn, and canola while easily edging out hay, beans, potatoes, sunflowers, barley, peas, lentils, flaxseed, oats, safflower, and sugarbeets.

Still, the final version of the Farm Bill might not be all bad. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R–Va.) took to the pages of the Augusta Free Press with a real peach of a piece extolling the virtues of the Farm Bill as a means to "support farmers" and similar drivel. But Griffith also used the piece to push for one of the few potential bright spots in this Farm Bill: the possibility to end what he rightly labels the "illogical and unproductive ban" on raising hemp.

In fact, farmers around the country are hopeful the nation's hemp ban may fall with passage of this Farm Bill.

"We're optimistic the 2018 Farm Bill will include hemp legalization," Jonathan Miller, general counsel for a group that represents hemp companies, told UPI.

Let's hope so. But will farm subsidies ever die? Probably not. They're a game Congress continues to play with taxpayers' money. And that game is rigged to ensure hundreds of millions of Americans will always lose.

NEXT: ACLU Sticks Up for the NRA?!

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. But Griffith also used the piece to push for one of the few potential bright spots in this Farm Bill: the possibility to end what he rightly labels the “illogical and unproductive ban” on raising hemp.

    How much will hemp subsidies cost us?

    1. If Washington has a soul at all, then 4.20 billion dollars.

  2. Wow, what a fake news story

    First it is not the “Farm Bill”, it is the Agriculture Department Bill. And the biggest part of the spending is Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). (What we used to call Food Stamps).

    Last year the annual Reason Story actually pointed that out but now Reason is back to its usual practice of ignoring SNAP and making this spending bill to be all about farmers when in fact its almost 80% about Food welfare

    1. Oops, wrong about 80%, the Fy2019 bill is 71% Nutritional Assistance, 22% Farm, Conservation, Commodity

      1. Individual welfare isn’t something that reason spends a lot of time on. Nor is fiscal restraint their real concern. It provides an occasional cover for the social issues that they really care about.

        If you want a generally honest fiscal take your only chances are Vero pieces.

    2. “Fake news”? Whatever you say Trumptard. It cuts food stamps while continuing large payments to farmers, many of which are corporations rather than small family-owned farms.

      1. It doesn’t cut jack shit, moron, just doesn’t increase as much as you lefties want. Just like every other farm bill. It’s free shit so you should love it, dickwad.

        1. Also, the notion of corporate-owned mega farms iteratively demonstrates not only a disdain for voluntary corporatism (and the private ownership therein) but an outright opposition to the fundamental laws of nature and distribution. Overwhelmingly, family farms constitute well over 90% of farms and even among the largest farms, family-ownership dominates. So, smacking corporate farms for being corporations is likely being done because ‘fuck evil corporations’ is a popular, if not retarded, mindset. They aren’t wrong about large farms being handed insurance money they don’t necessarily need (whether they bought and paid for it is a different issue), but if they were the least bit honest in either facts or moral sensibility, they’d be talking about ?ber-wealthy farming oligarchs working the Farm Bill system to take money from the poors and enrich their coffers. Except that that narrative skirts dangerously close to highlighting who actually makes the most money off the SNAP program.

  3. Speaking of farm bills…

    It looks like President Trump porked a heifer with the innskeeper who then calfed a baby. This is Another example of President Trump’s great virility and why he’s probably a greater leader than Abraham Lincoln, who probably only fucked men on the farm.

    1. Dude, get your meds adjusted. That didn’t even begin to make sense.

      Of course, you could always get a job at MSNBC….if they still exist by the time you get there.

    2. It was the housekeeper. Wonder if he raped her?

      1. That’s more of a clinton thing.

    3. So, Trump is Zeus…

  4. The New Farm Bill Is Going To Suck

    Fortunately we’re banning straws, so it all balances out.

  5. I am neither arguing for or against crop insurance subsidies, however, the author makes a plethora of untrue assertions. First, crop insurance only pays 60-80 cents on the dollar. It is designed to cover lost production not make a profit. Second, conparing insurance as if it was a crop is completely disingenuous. The fact is, is that crop insurance covers a variety of crops, therefore, the price tag should be by each insured crop. Third, it aids both wealthy farmers (which there are a few, but they are the exception) and poorer farmers. Farmers net worth is often misunderstood because they equipment and land prices inflate it, however, they have few liquid assets. Fourth, crop insurance is necessary. Take for example my area. Last year we had a historic one year drought, paired with below break even wheat prices. This year, commodity prices for our largest cash crops (peas and lentils) crashed and are less the. 50% of what they were a year ago. To too that off at least a quarter of farmers in the Eastern portion if the county were nearly completely hailed out. Most of these farmers had few, if any, harvestaby crops last year because of the drought. I have to wonder if an insurance underwriter would be willing to underwriter policies for someone who had back to back disaster years (none of it their own fault)? At a price they could afford when commodity prices are struggling.

    1. That should read a one year drought of historical proportions.

    2. God I can’t type on my phone. And fuck auto-correct.

    3. Insurance is useful, but farmers should pay for 8t themselves. Part of the cost of doing business.

      Bad things can happen to anyone and any business. Why should the government be involved in any of them?

      1. Would any insurance company willingly sell a policy on something that is as big a risk as dry land farming? At a price farmers, who already have paper thin margins, can afford? Farming is one of the few businesses where the producer is not in control of pricing. They don’t set their price, therefore they can’t adjust the cost of business to offset high production costs.
        As for bad things happening to any business, what other non-comodity based business is so at the mercy of forces beyond their control, weather, insects, weeds, disease, etc?

        1. So farmers are special. No, they’re not. And the farmer is not in control of pricing? Really? They are literally forced to sell at a particular price into the market? They are forbidden from hedging with futures? Now in some cases that is true because of government intervention, and I will wholeheartedly support getting the government COMPLETELY out of the farming biz, but the notion that only the government can supply this insurance just means that we’ve broken the market through interventions. There is nothing special about farming that actuaries don’t deal with every single day.

          You wanna talk risk and things outside of your control? OK, how about pharma which has to pay for Phase 1-3 trials costing, oh, about $3BB for a new drug, said drug can fail at any stage including the day before the Phase 3 is set to complete. Or let’s take a new wafer fab at $10BB which will take 2 years to come online and another 9 months to qualify first wafers. Surely the market will not charge over such a short span of time… Or a new restaurant with single digit margins and single digit 5 year survival rates. There are a ton of other businesses that are just as unpredictable as farming.

          1. Notanotherskippy, actually farmers are special in that, they produce goods that the country cannot live without. Politicians and philosophers alike have recognized, throughout history, how fast the civility of a country can break down in a food shortage. Although I am not in a food production, distribution, or retail business, I am willing to pay my part of farm subsidies (and have some waste, no doubt) in order to ensure an adequate long-term food supply.

    4. All of this text, but no explanation for why the rest of the country should pay to cover for a bad business model.

      1. Says the light rail enthusiast

        1. lolololol?.way to shut his sorry ass up, nardz.

  6. I refused marijuana crop subsidies.

    1. But where will I get my weed if there are no subsidies?

  7. The Republican Party is the party of welfare for hypocritical rednecks who want to complain about government spending while cashing government checks.

    1. Thankfully we have the socialists in team blue to fix things. Remember, it’s greedy to want to keep your own money, but it’s noble to want to spend someone else’s.

      1. If redistributing money is “socialism” (it’s not), then Republicans are also socialists. They want welfare payments made to farmers which the rest of us will ultimately have to pay (I’m sure the money will be borrowed, but the bill will eventually come due), and it’s not even going to poor, struggling farmers. Indeed, much of it is going directly to members of Congress. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-California, receives $1,747,174 in farm subsidies. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Louisiana, has received $444,640 in federal farm subsidies. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-South Dakota, has received $573,568 in federal farm subsidies. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Georgia, has received $71,454 in federal farm subsidies. And they accept this money while complaining about dependence on government and government spending. Pot, meet kettle…

  8. Most farmers are like my cousins in Nebraska. Don’t own any land, have two combines, take contracts and rent land annually and get paid no matter what.

    Crop failure risks are distributed by farm corporations across tens of thousands of square miles. The “family farm” as depicted in politics hasn’t really been a thing in 50 years because they are economically unsustainable.

    1. Crop failure risks are distributed by farm corporations across tens of thousands of square miles.

      Your cousins sign contracts to produce grain and the contract holder pays out whether they produce the grain or not? I’m calling bullshit.

      Your cousins may be contracted to farm on rented land, but those contracts are predominantly with private farmers or processors and on land rented from private landowners. There have been anti-corporate farming laws on the books in various states for nearly a century and 97% of farmers farm the land live on. Not that I support these laws, but the 97% number hasn’t changed much in the last several decades nor has the total number of farms. Both of which would be expected were massive corporations bankrupting small farmers and buying up farmland.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.