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The Farm Bill: Air. Do we want our subsidies with a side of global warming, or something FRESH? Tell DiFi, Boxer, and your Senators to get cooking!

1245296949_0f09509a93.jpgOver the last few months we’ve discussed organic foods, the precautionary principle, global warming, the farm bill, and the rivers of tax-subsidized water from Federal projects sluiced onto millions of acres of Big Ag commodity farms – to grow subsidized crops for subidized exports.

America, what a country!

What a countrycide…..

dying at the hands of BigAg and their purchased servants in the Executive Branch and Congress.

The Center For Food Safety’s visionary, accessible 2002 book Fatal Harvest dissects the anatomy of lethal Industrial Ag processes and the homicidal policy choices Big Ag slams into the Body Politic – and the biosphere – to forestall the DT’s of withdrawal from the Treasury’s teat. In this anthology of essays and photojournalism, organic grower Jason McKenny describes the diminishing returns of Industrial Ag:

“The production of…fertilizers cosnumes more energy than any other aspect of the agricultural process. It takes the energy from burning 2,200 tons of coal to produce 5.5 pounds of usable nitrogen….

“This economic model of farming made some sense when we were mining the biological reserves of fertility bound in our soil humus. Now it is a crisis of diminishing returns. In 1980 in the US, the application of a ton of fertilizers resulted in an average yield of 15 to 20 tons of corn. By 1997, this same ton of fertilizer yielded only 5 to 10 tons. Between 1910 and 1983, United States corn yields increased 346 percent while our energy consumption for agriculture increased 810 percent. [snip]

“The biological health of soils has been driven into such an impoverished state at the expense of quick, easy fertility that productivity is now compromised, and fertilizers are less and less effective. [snip]

“The UN Food and Agriculture organization in 1997 declared that Mexico and the United States had “hit the wall” on wheat yields, with no increases shown in 13 years.”

p 242, Fatal Harvest

As we’ve discussed, TFB is kinda like the doggie bag of megacorp subsidies: if someone somewhere can get Federal dollars related to food, the program was scraped off the legislative platter and dumped in TFB. Big War learned to seed Congressional districts across the US with small local contracts for big useless programs, ensuring local advocates for anything Big War’s wholly-owned colonels in Pentagon procurement programs want to fob off on Congress – and us, the people who pay the subsidies.

While our schools and bridges and hospitals literally fall apart, and one quarter of America’s homeless are America’s own veterns.

Now Industrial Food and Big Ag aren’t about to let Big War steal a march on them in the great race for world champion of lethal greed.

Big War merely keeps Congressional districts hostage? Hah! Big Toxic Food and Industrial Ag have reached down and grabbed nearly every frikking public school in America as hostages. And – just to make sure – Big Toxic Crap Food and Industrial Ag grabbed all the poor babies and moms to be.

Hey – it’s that whole compassionate conservatve thing, right?

Where do Big Toxic Crap Food and Big Industrial Ag keep all those moms and babies hostage? After all, even crumbling schools still take up a lot of space.

Why – in The Farm Bill. Where else?

Big Toxic Junk/Ag’s hostages in TFB include “Title IV” – the Nutrition Programs – include food stamps, emergency food assistance, school lunches, Women, Infant and Children Program (WIC) and the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. These programs take up nearly half (48.4%) of total TFB spending, and rightly so – they serve the neediest in our society.

The Toxic Junk/Ag megacorps have protected the billions for plutocrats in the TFB by holding Federal Nutrition Programs (and other Federal farm programs that actually help us survive) hostage to the absurdly bloated “Commodity Programs”.

Collectively known as TFB’s “Title I”, the Commodity Programs lavish our tax dollars on a few heavily subidized commodity crops the US exports – enriching Cargill, ADM, and the wealthiest farmers and farm landowners.

The price? Merely a third of TFB.

Well, in 2006, the big five crops in the Commodity Program – corn, cotton, wheat, rice, and soybeans – gobbled up 92% of Title I tax subsidies in the form of 19 billion dollars of direct support payments. And – just the rest of our winner-take-all Federal programs under the Bushies – the big boys at the top get the goodies:

According to the Congressional Research Service, 84 percent of commodity support spending goes to the production of just five crops: corn, cotton, wheat, rice, and soybeans. Half of that money currently goes to just seven states that produce most of those commodities. The richest ten percent of farm-subsidy recipients (many of whom are corporations and absentee landowners who can hardly be classified as “actively engaged ” in growing crops) take in more than two-thirds of those payments.

A few other broad brushstrokes:

* Almost 50 percent of all commodity subsidies went to 5 percent of eligible farmers in 2005.
* Subsidies help the largest farms to acquire the best land and squeeze out smaller growers.
* The growth rate for jobs trailed the national average in nearly two-thirds of counties receiving heavy subsidies between 2000 and 2003, according to a recent report.

Once again – what are those five crops? :

Corn (massive dependence on subsidized fertilizer/pesticides/diesel)

Wheat (massive dependence on subsidized fertilizer/pesticides/diesel)

Cotton (massive dependence on subsidized water/fertilizer/pesticides/diesel)

Rice (massive dependence on subsidized water fertilizer/pesticides/diesel)

Soybeans (massive dependence on subsidized fertilizer/pesticides/diesel)

Where not grown with Federally subsidized water from Federally subsidized taxpayer financed Federal Water Projects (as is the case for rice, cotton, and soy in California’s Sacramento and San Joaquin River Valleys – aka “Central Valley”), wheat, cotton, corn, and soy raised for export are increasingly watered by mining America’s aquifers. The result – using subidized fossil fuels to mine water from ancient aqifers so rapidly the aquifers cannot replenish – so well levels fall, pumping costs rise, and Cargill/ADM/Big Ag grow ever fatter sellig our grandkids’ ground water.

Oh – what powers the vast network of pumps that suck water out of California rivers and onto Big Ag’s subsidized commodity crops?

Taxpayer subidized fossil fuels.

‘Cause our soldiers’ blood – and the global network of US war bases from which they issue forth to die – are the price of Bush/Cheney’s Perpetual War for Diminishing Oil.

The same subsidized oil Industrial Ag burns to make the pesticides and fertilizers and power the tractor that spreads them and the harvester that reaps them and the grain elevators that lift and store them – so they may be exported far away, to the greater glory of the Cargills, the Bosworths, and the price fixing cartel known as ArcherDanielsMidland.

And – at the same time Big Ag is pumping America dry for food exports, the clever greedballs have declared the near-perpetual drought on the Northern Great Plains an “emergency”, adding a whole slew of new megacorp subsidies to the hostage-takers in TFB.

And ensuring a whole river of Federal subsidies to draw down what groundwater still remains to catastophically low levels.

Pity the market’s invisible hand hasn’t learned dowsing…

Every year, Congress is pressed to provide emergency ad hoc disaster aid to farmers and ranchers who have suffered weather damage to crops and livestock. Over the past 21 years (1985-2005), taxpayers have provided $26 billion in emergency agricultural disaster aid to more than two million farm and ranch operations. USDA sent out disaster aid checks every year for the past two decades, with payouts exceeding one billion dollars in 11 of the 21 years…. [snip]

Now the Senate Finance Committee reportedly is considering a permanent trust fund that would set aside $5 billion that could be paid in disaster aid to farmers and ranchers without resort to ad hoc legislation.

….most of this $5 billion would go to just a few states where agricultural disaster “emergencies” are in fact routine, virtually annual occurrences, primarily because of low rainfall. These same states are among the biggest recipients of crop subsidies, conservation aid, and federally subsidized crop insurance claims.

EWG examined the history of disaster aid payments to the 20 states currently represented on the Senate Finance Committee and found that over the past 21 years, those states have collected some $9 billion in ad hoc disaster payments, roughly one-third of the $26 billion total paid nationwide. However, just four states on the committee collected 55 percent of that $9 billion (North Dakota, Kansas, Iowa and Montana). Future disaster aid is expected to follow the same pattern.


Indeed, agricultural disaster aid should be thought of as serving two distinct groups of farmers and ranchers. The overwhelming majority rarely receives disaster checks from taxpayers, and the amount of assistance is modest. The second group, the primary source of the political pressure for disaster aid every year, is a small minority of the recipients who are chronically dependent on disaster aid. Over two decades this group has collected ad hoc disaster checks every other year, if not more frequently.


But a minority of the recipients are chronic beneficiaries of disaster funds, with some 21,000 of them (about 1 percent of recipients) collecting disaster aid more than 11 years out of 21, amounting to $2.5 billion, or almost 10 percent of the total payments….This small minority of farmers, located in a handful of states, would be the chief beneficiaries of a permanent trust fund for disaster aid because they would be applying for it almost every year.


While every state received at least some disaster payments over the period, five states–Texas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Georgia–account for 67 percent of the chronic beneficiaries who collected disaster funds every other year, or more often, for two decades (Table 2). The heavy concentration of chronic recipients in Texas, South Dakota, North Dakota and Oklahoma simply reflects the difficulty of raising crops and to a lesser degree livestock in a region of perennially low rainfall. It also raises the question of whether taxpayers ought to be obligated to provide a continuous stream of aid when “disaster emergency” is the rule and not the exception.

Uh – Kirk? Your Saturday posts are getting depressing. Could we have a sprinkling of good news?

Hey – how about a big hunk of Farm Bill worth of good news?

In the last few weeks, the Congress has grown a gonad or two (internal or external, take your choice) and seems to be standing up to Big Ag and Big Toxic Crap Food.

Well – OK – some of the Congress.

Three Senate Amendments will help make the Farm Bill a whole lot safer for our children, our nation and the planet.

And they deserve our support.

Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group, said the farm bill “will be first and foremost a test of the leadership of the Democratic Party that now controls the Senate. … They have to decide if they’re the party of big agriculture or not.” [snip]

“I think it’s real clear that Boxer and Feinstein are really crucial swing votes,” said Mark Lipson, policy program director for the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz. “It could really come down to them making the difference.

Faber said environmental groups were targeting Boxer, a longtime environmental advocate who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee.

“You have a drought in California,” Faber said, noting that some of the state’s subsidized cotton acreage also gets federal water subsidies. “Aren’t you guys going to be voting on new infrastructure to increase access for water?”

Boxer, he said, “ought to be concerned about this. Water is going to be the next crisis in the West. We all see it. So why should we use water to produce a commodity that is in surplus and actually works against our interests? It does not make any sense.”

Call DiFi, Boxer, and your home Senators. Tell them you love your family and you don’t want them poisoned or slow-cooked on a baking planet. Tell them you want to live – and you want them to support three amendements to TFB: The FRESH Act, the Dorgan-Grassley Amendment, and the Brown-Durbin amendment.

The FRESH act: Sen. Harkin and Sen. Lautenberg are co-sponsoring the FRESH alternative to TFB’s Title I Commodity Program scams:

FRESH would massively overhaul farm subsidies that Lugar claims are unfair and assist large farmers at the expense of the whole nation’s agricultural health. Instead of subsidies, the reform bill would provide a federally backed insurance program that would be free for all growers.

“For the first time, each farmer would receive expanded county-based crop insurance policies, that would cover, either, 85-percent of expected crop revenue or yield or 80-percent of a farm’s 5-year average adjusted gross revenue,” said Lugar.

The savings – some estimates say $16 billion worth – would fund, among other things, feeding and conservation programs along with biofuel research.

Dorgan-Grassley limits farm subsidies to a maximum of $250,000 per farmer. If FRESH fails, D-G will help staunch the subsidies bleeding Federal deficit spending into the wealthiest Americans’ pockets.

Brown-Durbin slaps Big Insurance, which currently steals more than 50% of every dollar in Federal crop insurance dollars away from the farmers.

This fight is worth having. As my colleague Mladen Golubi?, M.D noted at HuPo:

Wondering what the Farm Bill has to do with sick people? Despite its name, the Farm Bill doesn’t just affect farmers. It’s a colossal piece of legislation that to a large extent determines what foods are grown in America, how much they end up costing, and what we end up eating. In other words, it has a big impact on whether people have easy access to the nutritious foods that will help them prevent diet-related diseases. The Farm Bill’s main influence stems from the enormous subsidies it gives farmers-more than $70 billion between 1995 and 2005 for food production alone. Unfortunately, more than 80 percent of this money goes to producers of sugar, oil, alcohol, meat, dairy, and feed crops. Soy, corn, and other feed crops are mostly used to fatten up cows and other animals that get turned into cheeseburgers and other high-fat, high-cholesterol products.

This subsidy system rewards farmers for growing foods that contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases I treat every day.

We can do beter – we’re America. Call DiFi and Boxer and your home state Senators – tell them it’s past time for them to help.

Bon Appetit!

[image by Felinux – hunting for prey]

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Kirk Murphy

Kirk Murphy

terrestrial obligate aerobe with endoskeleton (bony) and bilateral symmetry.

chordate, bipedal, warm-blooded, mammalian, placental (origin), opposable thumbs.

not (yet) extinct.

indigenous habitat: California Live Oak.

current habitat: Central California Coast (most northerly aspect).... 'northwest of the new world, east of the sea'

potential habitats: all potential habitats critically endangered (due to global climate change).

ailurophilic - hence allergic rhinitic.