Federal agriculture subsidies are supposed to keep farmers in business when prices plummet or bad weather destroys crops. But instead, the farm bill has morphed into an entitlement program for big agribusiness that subsidizes rich investors, feeds the unhealthy American diet, distorts international trade and rapes the environment.
Congress should put an end to this. But instead, the House passed a new five-year farm bill this summer that mostly preserves the status quo. The bill that emerged from the Senate Agriculture Committee this week is almost as larded with pork as the House bill.
You know you've got a bad bill when the only ones defending it are the congressional stooges for Big Ag. Senators from both sides of the aisle, even some from farm states, together with the Bush White House, have rightly attacked the House and Senate bills for the shameless pork that they are.
We are happy to report, however, that Utah's Sen. Orrin Hatch has signed on to the one bill we've seen that would actually plow under the old mess and plant something new. It would eliminate direct payments - which are not based on current crop production or prices - and replace them with crop insurance for all farmers.
By cutting back the bloated system of crop subsidies, most of which benefit growers of corn, cotton, wheat, rice and soybeans, the bill would direct increased federal funding to environmental protection, a critical issue in agriculture, and still reduce spending. It would do other good things, like support specialty crops and fruits and vegetables.
Remember that story in The Tribune July 29 about how billionaire Jim Sorenson, Larry H. Miller, former governor Mike Leavitt and lobbyist Cap Ferry were among the big recipients of farm subsidies in Utah? Well, that would end, too. Non-farming millionaires would no longer qualify, although other bills also would take a whack at that problem.
Nationally, only about one-third of farmers receive any subsidies, and 83 percent of the payments go to the top 20 percent of recipients.
Sens. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., are sponsoring the reform bill. We hope this seed bears fruit.