I find them to be a lot like cicadas. They come out of the ground every five years, make a lot of noise and then crawl back into their holes.
The New York Times kicked off things last week with the first volley by calling for massive cuts to direct farm program payments to producers. In an editorial published Jan. 15, the Times said the government spends $10 billion to $30 billion a year subsidizing “mainly large scale farms.” I hate it when they get it wrong right off the bat.
Many of the direct payments authorized by the Farm Bill do not go to large-scalefarms. And just what is a large-scale farm? The Times would have you believe it’s a bunch of guys in suits sitting around a board roomdetermining how many acres of soybeans they plan to grow this year. Real production agriculture just doesn’t work that way.
You’d think a newspaper that’s been burned by the likes of Judith Miller and Jayson Blair would take greater steps to get its facts straight. And unlike the falsified stories by Miller and Blair, a quick trip to the Internet would have improved the accuracy of the Times’ Farm Bill editorial dramatically.
Entitled, “Here’s an Easy One,” the Times editorial said the government spends $5 billion in direct payments delivered to farmers “regardless of what or even whether farmers plant.” True enough.
What the Times story didn’t tell you is that much of those payments are part of the conservation titles within the Farm Bill. Obviously, the Times is against conservation initiatives. By the way, the largest conservation efforts in this country are done on private lands, including farmland. In fact, more than 30 million acres of land across the country is enrolled in conservation programs. That’s the equivalent to the entire landmass of the Louisiana.
The Times editorial took its cue from American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman’s address in Atlanta Jan. 9, calling for a strong “safety net” for producers in bad years. The Times apparently had a problem with the term, particularly when that safety net is strung together with tax dollars.
Fair enough. But the Times throws out the word “billions” like it’s supposed to shock us. Anyone keeping up with current events knows that in terms of government expenditures, “billions” these days are peanuts.
Here’s some perspective.
The total federal operating budget for 2010 was slightly more than $2 trillion. The largest parts of the federal budget included social security, defense, Medicare and unemployment and welfare benefits. If the Times really wanted to espouse federal fiscal responsibility it should havecalled for cutting those programs, especially welfare, by the same percentages.
Cutting those programs would really amount to some savings. Then again, calling for less money for farmers is in fact an easy one because the Times and groups sharing its political beliefs would have you think farmers are getting filthy rich off government programs.
Here’s more perspective. Only 39 percent of U.S. farms received farm programpayments in 2008 and the average payment to a farmer that year was $11,922. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the same department that also administers the federal food stamp program, a protected entitlement by the way.
According to a September 2009 report by the Heritage Foundation, “total means-tested welfare spending in fiscal year 2008 amounted to around $16,800 for each poor person in the U.S.” The report also said “typically, welfare benefits are received not just by the poor, but also by persons who have incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($44,400 per year for a family of four).” The report also stated that around one-third of the U.S. population falls within this lower income range.
So let’s do some very basic math.
• Average farm program payment: $11,922.
• Average welfare payment: $16,800.
• Number of U.S. farmers: 3.5 million.
• Number of Americans who qualify for welfare: 34 million.
• Average number of actual farmers who received payments: 1.26 million.
• Average number of recipients who received welfare payments: Let’s be conservative and say 25 million, since the Heritage report didn’t list the total number of Americans who actually received welfare payments in 2008.
Another fiscal fact might be the most telling of all. In its editorial the Times called farm program spending “a big ticket item.” Wrong again. According to the USDA, farm program spending accounts for less than one-half of 1 percent of the total federal budget. Again, that’s according to the USDA.
Now certainly anyone can spin the numbers in their favor. But to call thecutting of farm program spending “an easy one,” is both flippant and just bad form.
You know what is easy? It’s going to your local grocery store, buying every type of food imaginable and spending less than 10 percent of your disposable income to do so. You know what else is easy? Sitting atop the New York Times building attacking the nation’s hardworking farmers and ranchers.
We’d all better be glad someone gets up every morning before the sun rises and works well beyond sunset to put food on our tables and clothes on our backs. Farming and ranching is hard work, a level of work most Americans will never know, particularly the editorial staff of the New York Times. And don’t even get me started on how much hard work it takes to cash a welfare check.