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President Criticizes Farm Bill

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, May 2, 2008

During a Presidential Press Conference, President Bush spoke out on a range of issues. He faulted Congress for not allowing for more domestic oil drilling, particularly in Alaska, saying this was contributing to higher oil prices.

Although he didn’t threaten a veto, he didn’t like the Farm Bill much either:

Americans are concerned about rising food prices. Unfortunately, Congress is considering a massive, bloated Farm Bill that would do little to solve the problem. The bill Congress is now considering would fail to eliminate subsidy payments to multi-millionaire farmers. America’s farm economy is thriving, the value of farmland is skyrocketing, and this is the right time to reform our nation’s farm policies by reducing unnecessary subsidies.

It’s not the time to ask American families who are already paying more in the check-out line to pay more in subsidies for wealthy farmers. Congress can reform our farm programs, and should, by passing a fiscally responsible bill that treats our farmers fairly, and does not impose new burdens on American taxpayers.

The big issue the White House is pushing is cutting off subsidies to wealthy people:

The administration wants to end crop subsidies to the wealthiest Americans. It proposed a cut-off point of $200,000 a year in adjusted gross income, later raised to $500,000 AGI if Congress enacted farm-program reforms. The White House says Congress has not followed through.

Senior farm-bill negotiators were working on a proposal to deny farm subsidies to people with high off-farm income but put no limit on farm income, even if it is millions of dollars.

Although Congressional negotiators have come to an agreement, there are still open issues, including some that affect the produce industry:

Payment limits are one of the remaining disagreements among congressional farm-bill negotiators, along with aid to fruit and vegetable growers and direct payments to farmers made regardless of crop prices, said Mary Kay Thatcher, top lobbyist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest U.S. farmer group. Bush’s comments, and the previous veto threats, are the White House’s way of influencing talks, she said.

“Whether they veto the bill or not, they have to keep threatening it at this point,” said Thatcher, who said she sees a 30 percent chance of a veto.

A bunch of advocacy groups, such as Sustainable Table, came out with statements praising President Bush for supporting the locally grown movement. But an honest reading of the President’s comments shows he was talking about buying local, not in the U.S., but in Africa and other troubled regions of the world.

The President pointed out his concern over situations of food scarcity around the world, pointing out that he just released $200 million in food from the Emerson Trust, which is a food reserve that allows the secretary of agriculture to release food to meet emergency humanitarian needs. The President then suggested an alternative plan for international famine problems:

One thing I think that would be very creative policy is if we would buy food from local farmers as a way to help deal with scarcity, but also as a way to put in place an infrastructure so that nations can be self-sustaining and self-supporting. It’s a proposal I put forth that Congress hasn’t responded to yet, and I sincerely hope they do.

This point is really crucial. If you take an impoverished country and dump free food in the country, you often deprive local growers of any market at all. You certainly depress local prices. Instead of dumping free food around the world, we could actually create incentives for local production by providing the means to buy food. This would do a lot more to help the world than we are right now.

This fact, though both important and true, has virtually nothing to do with consumers buying locally grown produce here in America.

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