The Importance of Farm Subsidies
It’s almost that time of year. Farmers around the country are buying seed and other supplies, getting their equipment in working order. Last year was a boom year for agriculture and this year is expected to be nearly as good if Mother Nature permits. Commodity prices remain high. This recent success presents an interesting dynamic as our leaders in Washington decide whether to tackle the 2012 Farm Bill this year or leave it to the next Congress. A major topic of debate every five years is always farm subsidies. Are they necessary? Do they do more harm than good? Is the system abused?
The facts are these: U.S. farm policy helps stabilize U.S. farm production, and everything else follows a domino effect that helps not just us, but the world. Our farm safety net enables us to feed Americans, and send the rest of the food to other countries in need. As evidence, as of August 26, 2010, the Associated Press in Pakistan reported the U.S. had already sent $150 million in relief, including near $50 million worth of food.
As a country, we spend just 10 percent of our income on food and just 2.3 cents per meal on the farmers’ safety net. It’s a deal that works for everyone involved. Except the farm policy critics.
I believe in capitalism and I believe in a free market but I’ve always felt that subsidies transcend economics. Our food supply is a matter of national security. If we give away our production to other countries (which is what will happen if subsidies are eliminated) then we give them an extraordinary amount of control over our country. We become vulnerable to trade pressure, shortages and possible embargoes. There’s always a problem with cheap US food flooding foreign markets. It hurts foreign farmers but ultimately it feeds foreign children who are often hurt by poor farming practices in their own countries. I’ll take that trade-off any day.
* Some commentors will no-doubt remark that concerns over food security are trivial but as a pre-emptive rebuttal I would simply draw attention to the occurrences of Mad Cow disease worldwide here. Because we protect our beef supply we have one of the lowest rates of Mad Cow in the western world. This is not an accident.