Welcome back to square one

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By Joe Yates

Many of Henry County’s residents work on farms and much of the county’s land is dedicated to agricultural use. One would think that the shenanigans out of Washington concerning our new Farm Bill would be of great interest around here, particularly in this era of fructose syrup-induced obesity, chemically based farming practices and climate change. But I don’t hear that much about it. Is it boring? Does anyone care? Well, in case some of you do, here’s a primer that includes all you need to know. (Oh—and please don’t write the paper to tell us that climate change is a hoax because I’ll have to waste an entire column on why you’re wrong.)

The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 (the first Farm Bill) was passed when corn prices literally hit zero. A new bill has been passed about every five years; there have been 15 of them. Originally intended to address the issues of erosion, safe food, fair prices for farmers, and the stability of the food supply, these programs have been chiseled away over the years to benefit powerful Agribusiness interests through direct payments (subsidies) to the growers of large ‘commodity’ crops—corn, cotton, rice, soybeans, and wheat. (The word ‘commodity’ has a nice Wall Street ring to it, huh?)

The 2012-2013 draft contained some promising features. But Senator McConnell and Vice President Biden, as part of the recent ‘fiscal cliff’ fiasco, gutted it.  The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition says that this back-room deal “disposed of programs for…healthy food markets, rural job programs, renewable energy…organic research and organic farming, [but] protected every last red cent of direct commodity subsidies.” The Senate passed this hatchet-job legislation last week—but just wait till we get to what the House did. Meanwhile, the basics:

You have been completely ignored.   No one but a few nut-jobs would be against economic safeguards for our food producers. Agriculture, given unpredictable weather and the capriciousness of the “free” market—is a much more fragile and risk laden business activity than, say, a widget factory. But the problem with these “safeguards” is that they are hugely slanted toward mega-farms that raise ‘commodities,’ and the rich folks make out like bandits. (Keep in mind that the average farm in Henry County is 160 acres.) Smaller ‘commodity’ farmers qualify for loose pocket change. If you raise fruits and vegetables, you qualify for pocket lint. Although Kentucky farmers received a total of $2.17 billion in commodity subsidies between 1995 and 2012, 65 percent of farms in the state received nothing. Ten percent got 82 per cent of all the subsidies—each big farm got an average of $8,674 per year for those years. The bottom 80% averaged $111. That’s right, a hundred bucks.

Monsanto’s investment in your senior Senator is not only safe but bearing interest.   Senator McConnell is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. From 2009 to 2010, the members of that committee received donations from the food processing industries and others in the amount of $8,488,399. The 10 Republican members got $5.46 million; the 11 Dems on the committee pocketed $3.03 million. Our esteemed senator was one of five members of the committee that took almost 60 % of the total $8.5 million package—Mitch got $1,003,037.

3. Uh…I might have been wrong earlier.  Did I say that some of you were ignored? Sorry—some of you actually get a kick in the stomach. Recall our clown prince of hypocrisy, Rep. Stephen Fincher, who advocated large cuts to SNAP while expanding cotton subsidy programs that benefit cotton farmers like…Steve Fincher? Fincher collected over $70,000 in 2012 alone. The average monthly SNAP payment in 2012 was just $133.41. This is downright harmful to the neediest in our county, where almost 20% of the population is below the poverty level. But for scumbuckets like Fincher, the drastic McConnell/Biden cuts to the Senate bill weren’t enough. His cronies tacked on amendments that force SNAP recipients to meet federal welfare work requirements and allow states to drug-test food stamp applicants. In the end, these changes were so awful that formerly ‘sure’ votes jumped ship—the bill did not pass—and we are now back at square one.