How Farm Policy Affects Us All

Our flawed federal agricultural policies are long overdue for a major overhaul.

| June/July 2007

Like a barnyard sow basking in the glow of attention at a county fair, the U.S. farm bill — that monstrously complex, multi-billion dollar, five-year plan for federal agriculture policy — has suddenly gained a high profile.

Most U.S. citizens are far removed from the land that sustains us (less than 2 percent of the population currently farms), but whether you know where your food comes from or not, this bill — set to be signed into law by Sept. 30, 2007 — has a huge impact on your life. It affects not just the quality and cost of our food, but also the quality of our land, water and even our air.

Food production is such an important activity, so critical to life and health, that we as a society would be wise to support farming on some level. The questions then become: Does current farm policy work to bolster farm health and enhance food security? Does it promote a food supply that is produced in sustainable ways and contributes to the health of all who consume it? Does it work to provide all our citizens with a steady, nutritious diet? If not, what would a farm policy that did look like?

The Evolution of Farm Policy

No one can accuse the United States of failing to commit significant resources to agriculture. Between 1995 and 2005, U.S. taxpayers paid farmers almost $165 billion in direct payments, according to the Environmental Working Group. That averages to approximately $16 billion per year — the majority of which went to the biggest growers of major crops, such as corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans and rice. The group estimates that in 2002 alone, taxpayers paid more than $12 billion to about 35 percent of America’s farms — this was an average of more than $17,000 per farm.

Given that level of commitment, it’s worth asking what taxpayers are gaining in return. A well-funded but sound national farm policy should be expected to promote an economically vibrant farm sector that produces a bounty of nutritious food, while carefully managing natural resources. But despite lavish cash outlays, U.S. farm policy fails on all of those fronts.

Indeed, existing farm policy, as embedded in the current farm bill, actively works against those goals.

6/21/2007 7:26:19 PM

If you want a better perspective of the damage the Food/Farm Bill causes, read "FoodFight - A Citizen's Guide to a Food and Farm Bill" by Dan Imhoff

6/1/2007 10:30:29 AM

I really like the magazine and plan to continue to subscribe, however after reading Tom Philpott's article on Farm Policy I didn't know whether to laugh of throw up over the absurdity and one sidedness of the comments. He spent the entire article damning farm policies for the past 70 years and offers only one small paragraph of not very clear solutions. You can do better than that.

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