There is a zip code in a built up area of Colorado’s Front Range that contains only a post office for renting out boxes.  The last time I checked about 60 of those box-holders had over the past few years received more than $2 million in various farm subsidies delivered to those boxes.


I find myself wondering if their boxes contain miniature tractors and other farm implements that make those checks possible. But I  guess they must own land somewhere that is enlisted in a USDA subsidy program or two.

I know of a few of those folks. They are not young. Their skin is tanned and leathered and goes well with their turquoise jewelry. Their rides are nice, too. Whenever I see one of them drive away, I wonder about our system of farm subsidies.

Most city people do not have a clue about the whole federal mechanism that is used to financially prop up the Ag economy. It is so vast that after the law and budgets that go directly to food safety, this whole financing structure for agriculture is probably the next most important thing for our farm-to-table system.

The “Farm Bill” re-loads this whole structure every four years. It was the last Farm Bill that sent catfish to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for continuous inspection, taking the job away from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Plenty of other food safety related examples could be cited.

That’s why I think it is worth pointing out one thing that happened this week that might be a sign that change is in the wind. The Senate’s 73-27 vote to end a $6 billion ethanol subsidy may turn out to be symbolic, but it was a dramatic, lopsided vote.

Maybe there will be less of an appetite for handling out federal tax dollars to people who don’t need them. That’s what Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-OR, is counting on with his amendment to cap farm subsidies at $125,000 per year.  It’s fair to say that other than Mount Hood, the third district of Oregon containing east Portland does not really grow much, but Blumenauer is pushing against the larger, more corporate agricultural interests.

In another vote this week, the House voted 228-186 against another approach, which would have limited farm subsidies by not allowing them to go to anyone making more than $250,0000 a year.


So, change is not going to come easy.

Reviews of the last Farm Bill noted that it was so artfully drawn that the Ag economy was going to be able to hit the D.C. cash machine no matter what the state of the economy. It even pre-positioned money for disasters. The 2008 Farm Bill added up to $285 billion for “agriculture and farming interests.”

The first field hearings for the 2012 bill have already been held, in Michigan to please Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, the chairwoman of the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-OK, chairs the House Ag. Committee.

Months from now — after the two committees, their members and staffs, enough lobbyists to fill a fleet of Lincoln town cars, and a silo of USDA employees all get through with it — there will be a new Farm Bill with policy and funding that will have profound implications for every facet of Agriculture, including food safety.

We’ll just have to wait and see what all of those are, and keep checking those post office boxes. 

P.S. You can check on farm subsidies in your area by using the Environmental Working Group’s Farm Subsidy Database.

  • doc raymond

    Then USDA Secretary Mike Johanns held public hearings in nearly every state to get feed back to help form the 2008 Farm Bill. The result led to the recommended serious reductions in subsidies to “farmers” who did not farm such and the many recipients who live on Manhattan Island. Congress does not like the Administration telling them what to do, and ignored this well thought out attempt to listen to the people and draw up a plan that was reasonable–it is very unlikely this congress will do anything reasonable. It is easier to cut funding for food safety than it is to cut funding to fat cats.

  • ICBM

    But… while all these commodity crop subsidies are sent to the farmer’s mailboxes they don’t get to hold on to all that much of it for very long…
    Farm Bill subsidies have been described as a “money laundering scheme” by and for the agribusiness ag input industry. Since conventional farmers are completely dependent on ag chemicals — the synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and other pesticides that are absolutely needed to bring in a crop (along with pricey biotech seed) — the $$$billions they receive in taxpayer subsidies have to be quickly spent to pay off their huge ag input bills — and the subsidy money is effortlessly transferred from taxpayers into the coffers of the agrochemical and biotech corporations.
    This happens year after year, in good years and bad. In fact a bad year for farmers — like this one with all the flooding in the Midwest — is even better for Big Ag because farmers have to purchase More fertilizer, herbicide, etc. to replace all the soluble chemicals that got washed down the streams and rivers into the Gulf of Mexico dead zone.
    Follow the money and you end up seeing the vast lobbying power at work that perpetuates the Farm Bills’ good ole’ agribusiness as usual. Not for nothing has Monsanto spent a half billion $$$ in the last decade on lobbying expenses alone — that’s chump change for insuring their slick taxpayer-subsidized revenue stream…
    But, of course, it doesn’t really Have to be like that doe it???

  • Doc Mudd

    I’m for ending all needless subsidies and wasteful grants to greedy farmers of all sizes and all persuasions.
    Funny no one at EWG is tracking the vast sums of cash pissed away “studying” and promoting ridiculous primitive “sustainable” farming superstitions.
    $22 million here…
    $8 million here (in North Carolina alone)…
    untold $$millions$$ here…
    and on and on and on it goes. Keep that up and it adds up to serious money! Real taxpayer money vanished into the pockets of dreamy hobby farmers to keep them casually dawbing around in the dung and weeds as a trendy pass-time.
    Vast sums of taxpayer cash frittered away on dreamy inefficient obsolete farming methods and laughable random yuppie brainfarts, “projects” that have contributed nothing of consequence to global food production in half-a-century of expensive economic support…costly “projects”, that by this time, probably never will contribute anything. Money and time completely wasted upon dreamers and snakeoil salesmen.
    So, I agree. Let’s turn off the spigot of cash to undeserving farmers, real and pretended. The professional farmers can offset lost subsidies through price inflation in the supermarket. The hobby farmers can simply take up another hobby…maybe yachting or art collecting to entertain themselves.
    Life will go on.

  • ICBM

    With farmers under 1% of the population you’re going to have to look deeper for the power center — and the real, institutionalized, greed — in our industrialized food system. For starters, just follow the Farm Bill’s $285 Billion in subsidy money as it gets laundered through chemically-dependent farmer recipients directly into the pockets of the agrichemical corporations.
    Because the farmers have to apply chemical inputs in good farming years and bad — it’s Always a good year for Agribusiness. And once on the chemical treadmill farmers have to use more and more synthetic petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides just to stay even. A Cornell report based on analysis USDA ag statistics concludes: “Although insecticide use in the U.S. increased more than tenfold since 1945 to date, crop losses to insects have nearly doubled during this period.”
    Farmers are also having to use more and more toxic herbicide mixtures to combat the growing list of Round-up resistant weeds — and on top of that, a recent report “Roundup and Birth Defects” proves that Monsanto and industry regulators have covered up for decades that Roundup causes birth defects in laboratory animals with no regulation or warning labels, while Monsanto has banked Billions.
    With agricultural petrochemicals as the shaky basis for our food supply, sustainable ag research is not only a good investment but a total necessity. The SARE — Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education — program is a great example of dedicated research dollars well spent. The last Farm Bill funded the SARE at $1.4 Million for projects in all 50 states. Hardly a drop in the bucket compared to the $285 Billion earmarked for the powerful Agribusiness interests…

  • Doc Mudd

    Great news!
    Perusal of the USDA FY 2011 Budget Summary and Annual Performance Plan
    exposes obvious wasteful bureacratic pork buried in the agriculture budget, overripe for cutting:
    * cut the ridiculous Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE – a legendary money pit with nothing substantial to show for hundreds of millions invested)
    * rein-in over-funding of Natural Resources Conservation Service, NRCS (a lazy, misguided bureacracy)
    * follow through on the excellent decision to discontinue funding the obsolete RC&D program (a biased, wasteful farce of a program)
    * dump the Rural Entrepreneur Microassistance Program (unnecessary for feasible businesses)
    * discontinue the Value-Added Producer Grants (unnecessary for feasible businesses)
    * cut the Regional Innovation Initiative (here’s an unbridled give-away of taxpayer money)
    * disallow the Community Access to Local Foods program (a sop to greedy unfocused local politicians)
    * lose the NASS Organic Agriculture Study (there’s so little to count, why bother?)
    * pass over the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (can we really afford $400 million to subsidize food snobbery?)
    Also, don’t overlook the need to eliminate Cooperative Extension Services, if your state hasn’t already jettisoned this dinosaur from the 1920’s. The cost-benefit for remaining Cooperative Extension agencies is abysmal, an absolute public embarrassment.
    Heh, upon closer inspection, the ridiculous SARE grant giveaway should have been named PORK grants.
    I’m torn. Out of over $6 million in grants, I can’t decide which give-away makes the least sense dollar for dollar:
    Appalachian Grown: Toward Regional Community-based Food Systems $154,030.00 or,
    Increasing Growers’ Quality of Life Through Direct Marketing $45,516.00
    That link is just North Carolina, alone…we’ve piddled away over $6 million just in the Tarheel state ‘ciphering’ on foolish fantasy hobby farm claptrap to no significant effect. That’s just one of 50 states. What an inexcusable waste!
    Call and email your congresspersons to inform them of these wasteful pork barrel programs, ripe for excision by their austerity scalpels.

  • ICBM

    Add this to your Muddiferous “Great News” head-in the-sand wish list:
    House Republicans vote to cut funds to implement food safety law
    By Lyndsey Layton, WaPo
    Arguing that the U.S. food supply is 99 percent safe, House Republicans cut millions of dollars Thursday from the Food and Drug Administration’s budget, denying the agency money to implement landmark food safety laws approved by the last Congress.
    Saying the cuts were needed to lower the national deficit, the House also reduced funding to the Agriculture Department’s food safety inspection service, which oversees meat, poultry and some egg products. And lawmakers chopped $832 million from an emergency feeding program for poor mothers, infants and children. Hunger groups said that change would deny emergency nutrition to about 325,000 mothers and children.

  • Doc Mudd

    All the more reason to call and email congressmen to cut these truly wasteful programs:
    * Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE)
    * Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
    * Rural Entrepreneur Microassistance Program
    * Value-Added Producer Grants
    * Regional Innovation Initiative
    * Community Access to Local Foods program
    * NASS Organic Agriculture Study
    * Healthy Food Financing Initiative
    Cut these wasteful program ideas now; reserve them for the next time our economy booms and bubbles, when we will be actively looking for loopy fashion rat-holes to piss our money into.
    It’s a short list. Copy and paste it into a letter and an email to your congresspeople today. And again next week. And the week after that…

  • ICBM

    Actually, for anyone/everyone concerned about the widespread health and environmental effects of industrial agriculture — cut and paste this handy list of sustainable food supply programs into a letter and email to your congresspeople today — to SAVE and Increase funding for these hugely valuable programs…
    * Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE)
    * Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
    * Rural Entrepreneur Microassistance Program
    * Value-Added Producer Grants
    * Regional Innovation Initiative
    * Community Access to Local Foods program
    * NASS Organic Agriculture Study
    * Healthy Food Financing Initiative

  • Doc Mudd

    Well, that will work too.
    Even a busy congressman will know what to do when confronted, for example, with $400 million (nearly half a billion, with a “B”) earmarked for some vacuous “Healthy Food Financing Initiative” program – a ridiculous pet scheme to aggressively promote food snobbery in poverty-stricken neighborhoods.
    Likewise, other “let them eat cake” elitist yuppie hobby-farm budget wasters on the list should be held up to the light at the particular urging of their shameless profiteering beneficiaries. The transparent greed will nicely showcase the fundamental absurdity of these ill-conceived give-aways.
    Yep, ‘health & environmental awareness’; once brought to their attention, the Congress will quickly figure out to give these tres chic pork programs and their elitist recipients a “healthy” slimming in this modern “environment” of Federal austerity.

  • ICBM

    Half a billion?? — Monsanto has spent more than that on their lobbying budget. Meanwhile there’s plenty of “transparent greed” that’s hiding in plain sight — or, more likely, covered up by all the Big Ag campaign contributions and lobbying Bucks….
    “The true travesty is the $285 BILLION taxpayers give away in subsidies to the petrochemical and biotech Agribusinesses — every 5 years — in the Farm Bill. Add $$BILLIONS more for corn ethanol subsidies and its plain to see in just Ag alone we’ve got a bad case of Corporate Socialism on our hands — only this version is a one-way ticket to a jeopardized food supply…

  • Doc Mudd

    Heh, heh, I will cheerfully navigate the minimal risk of “Corporate Socialism” and any hallucinatory paranoia of a “jeopardized food supply” with modern efficient, effective, experienced professional farmers long before I will blindly trust any loopy ‘local organic’ fanatic to simply keep the turds separate from the limited crops of overpriced food they are deceptively hawking as “healthy”. No contest.
    I expect my Congress to intelligently prioritize and fund the 2012 farm bill to assure the continued abundance of safe, affordable food…and stop wasting any more resources on effete foodie bullshit. I’m comfortable letting the tres chic gourmands shift for themselves, brave free-thinking libertarians that they are.