Buying the farm

California ranks first among states in agriculture, with nearly $45B in agricultural sales, roughly 11% of the country’s total (roughly equivalent to French production).  Strangely enough, California ranks 12th in receiving farm subsidies and receives a scant 3.4% of the Federal largesse.  In comparison, Illinois ranks 6th in agricultural sales ($19B) but reaps 6.9% of subsidy revenue. And Illinois isn’t the only MidWestern state to feed at the pork barrel through – 7 Midwestern states rank 2nd through 8th ranking states netted a cool 36.7% of the take – approximately $137B since 1995!

Putting aside the question of why the US subsidies agriculture at all, much less on such a massive scale, we must first ask – why does California get the short end of the subsidy stick relative to states in the Midwest and parts of the South?  The overwhelming majority of the money goes to grain, mostly corn (with a little wheat and rice thrown in), cotton (to benefit the big government-hating South), dairy (you’re welcome, Wisconsin & Minnesota) and peanuts.

While California does have a strong dairy industry, our top crops include nuts, tomatoes, berries, lettuce and the like – the salad crops that are so healthy for you and attract but a pittance of Federal largesse. In the 2014 Farm bill Congress restructured the nature of the subsidies, but but kept the general categories intact and increased the amount overall.  California’s win?  Feinstein and Boxer ‘went along to get along’ and their love was sold with some small earmarks for research and marketing support for wine, almonds and prunes.

This is but one (rather expensive) example of California subsidizing other states, as our tax money goes to subsidize crops grown in other states while receiving little in return.  If one considers agricultural subsidies as pure pork, then one would need to wonder at how little bacon our representatives bring home, given that our estimated 39M people are roughly 11% of the total U.S. population.  Support for this unequal, crop-specific and Midwestern-enriching system, sadly, appears to be strong and bipartisan.  Neither Democratic nor Republican California Federal Representatives or Senators appear to be troubled by the inequality in the least.

Arguably we would be better off without subsidizing farming at all, or at least using subsidies strategically to encourage the production of healthy foods like California’s salad crops, or organic farming, rather than corn for high-fructose corn syrup in our processed food.  Although Presidents George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton began aggressively winding down crop subsidies in the 1990s in response to trade deals abroad, a new era of agri-pork began with George Bush Jr.’s approval of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 which directed billions of new subsidies towards the usual crop targets, and which Congress literally doubled down on with the 2008 Farm Bill.  The most unfair and unequal aspect to the subsidies is that 72% of the subsidies go to 10% of the beneficiaries – Big Ag corporations such as Riceland Foods Inc. and Producer’s Rice Mill Inc.  If we are going to have subsidies they should help our small and family farms, not giant companies that frankly do not need the help.

California should remain passive no longer.  The CNP will push to reduce agricultural subsidies to pre-2003 levels while spreading the remaining subsidies more equitably by reducing crop-specific price supports and spending.

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