Agriculture

Want to Understand Trump’s Rise? Head to the Farm.

Siena Chrisman: “Rural America is mad. We’re hearing from people in places like West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania who are fed up with the government, the economy, the ‘establishment,’ and taking out their anger at Trump rallies.”

“But what has too long been overlooked is how much of that economic dysfunction—and the anger it has caused—goes back to the dissolution of the family farm.”

“46 million Americans still live in the countryside, with many hollowed out towns, few job prospects, and the near impossibility of making a living off the land for all but the biggest farm operators. They’re not reaping the benefits of so-called efficiency, and they still feel abandoned. Joel Dyer writes, ‘The government’s lack of concern about rural America’s future made it possible for anyone to walk in and set up shop.’ In the 1990s, it was anti-government and militia groups; today it’s Donald Trump.”

Target to Debut Vertical Farms into a Few Stores This Spring

Business Insider: “In January, Target launched the Food + Future CoLab, a collaboration with design firm Ideo and the MIT Media Lab. One area of the team’s research focuses on vertical farming, and Greg Shewmaker, one of Target’s entrepreneurs-in-residence at the CoLab, says they are planning to test the technology in a few Target stores to see how involved customers actually want to be with their food.”

“During the in-store trials, people could potentially harvest their own produce from the vertical farms, or just watch as staff members pick greens and veggies to stock on the shelves.”

Why Farmers Love the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

Public Radio International: “The TPP would gradually remove tariffs, making American butter and cheese 30 to 35 percent cheaper and therefore more attractive to Japanese shoppers. That’s if the TPP is ratified.”

“It’s not just Pennsylvania dairy farmers watching the TPP. American corn growers could sell more to Vietnam, wheat growers could tap into the Malaysian market, and pork producers could find more buyers in New Zealand.”

“And that extra income could translate into jobs on the farm: some 40,000 nationwide.”

“That’s the sticking point of the TPP, though: jobs. Labor organizations oppose the trade deal, arguing that it would hurt too many American workers. One economic study concludes that the TPP could cost the US roughly 450,000 jobs. The Obama Administration concedes that jobs would be lost, but argues that the TPP would create new ones too.”

The Worker Shortage Facing America’s Farmers

CNN Money: “American farmers say they are facing a severe worker shortage. More than half of U.S. farm workers are undocumented immigrants, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Yet, that pool of workers is shrinking.”

“A recent Pew Research report found that more Mexican immigrants are now leaving the U.S. than coming into the country, citing tougher enforcement of immigration laws and the slow economic recovery here in the U.S. (The report accounted for both documented and undocumented immigrants).”

“With fewer workers, farm owners say costs are rising and they often must leave unpicked fruit to rot in the fields. Many producers are even opting to leave the U.S. for countries with lower costs and fewer regulations, said Tom Nassif, CEO of Western Growers, a trade organization that represents farm owners both in the U.S. and abroad.”

Six Companies Are About to Merge into the Biggest Farm-Business Oligopoly in History

Quartz: “With six agricultural giants on the verge of merging into three separate companies, consumers and farmers are feeling uneasy about the global implications and how it might impact the food system.”

“Top executives from Bayer, Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical, and Syngenta today (Sept. 20) testified before the US Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, making a case for why federal regulators should approve the mega-mergers, which stand to fundamentally reorganize global agriculture.”

Consumers advocates say they worry the mergers will usher in a “new era of sterile crops soaked in dangerous pesticides.” Farmers worry that less competition in the marketplace will give the merged companies an ability to increase prices of seeds and chemicals—something that would be particularly harmful during a time when US farm incomes are dropping.”

It Pays to be a Farmer

Washington Post: “Farm subsidies have for decades disproportionately benefited richer Americans.”

“Call it agricultural inequality. The country’s top recipients swept 77 percent of subsidies from 1995 to 2012 … The U.S. Department of Agriculture will soon propose a rule that could drive that percentage down, Politico reports, starting with tightening the definition of an ‘actively engaged’ farmer. The eligibility for agricultural subsidies remains broad: Anyone who invests time, money or guidance in a farm can qualify for a fat government handout.”

“’It’s a loophole some folks not ‘actively engaged’ in farming are using to collect farm benefits,’ USDA spokesman Cullen Schwarz said, ‘and we’re trying to close that to the extent that we can.’”

“The USDA proposal is parked in the Office of Management and Budget, Schwarz said. Change could take months. Farm subsidies, meanwhile, continue to cushion the privileged.”

“In the past 20 years, at least $11.3 million in farm subsidies went to 50 billionaires — including Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, investment giant Charles Schwab and Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy.”

“Then there’s the new crop insurance program, intended to replace direct payments. It comes with no income cap and can help out the kind of earners who don’t necessarily need to be saved … The shift from direct payments to crop insurance, Dayen notes, means it will be much harder to track how the handouts are distributed.”

 

The ‘Hell No’ Caucus and the Farm Bill

Jonathan Chait comments on Rep. Tom Cotton’s (R-AR) position on the farm bill.

“Cotton currently serves in the House as a frequent member of the ‘hell no’ caucus, which votes against nearly everything. The trouble is that one of those things was the farm bill, which is popular in Arkansas because it lavishes subsidies upon major state industries.”

Cotton’s claim: “President Obama hijacked the farm bill, turning it into a food stamp bill.”

“In his untrue ad, Cotton argues that he voted as he did because ‘career politicians love attaching bad ideas to good ones.’ The bad idea here, in Cotton’s telling, is food stamps. The good idea is farm subsidies.”

“There is no persuasive economic rationale for why the government should write checks to people who operate farms as opposed to textile mills or construction firms or any other business … Farmers are also more affluent than the average American. Since they are overwhelmingly white and conveniently spread throughout nearly every state, their claim to public subsidy has gained some popular legitimacy.”

Cotton also argues that food stamp recipients “live high on the hog: ‘They have steak in their basket, and they have a brand-new iPhone, and they have a brand-new SUV.'”

The facts: “The program offers a benefit averaging $1.50 per person per meal, and its beneficiaries are quite poor.”

Food Stamp Policy: Correcting a ‘Problem’ that Isn’t a Problem

Danny Vinik: “When Republicans want to support their position that Americans have become dependent on welfare, they frequently point to the number of workers on food stamps.”

But: “Just as the number of food stamp beneficiaries rises during recessions though, it falls as the economy improves. And that’s exactly what’s happening now, as the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.”

“In other words, food stamps aren’t out of control. But Republicans have used the temporary surge in beneficiaries as a reason to make permanent cuts to the program.”

“Democrats and Republicans agreed on a farm bill with $8.7 billion in cuts. That’s certainly better than the original House version, but will still hurt many Americansall in the name of ‘correcting’ a problem that isn’t a problem at all.”

food stamps

SNAP Enrollment Begins to Ease Off

WSJ: “The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, reported that 46.8 million Americans received SNAP benefits in December. That is a lot of people, but it’s also the lowest number of Americans to receive benefits since June 2012. The December 2013 figure was down 1 million people from December 2012.”

“The December figures don’t take into account changes that were made in February when Congress passed a farm bill that included new limits on who can receive food stamps.”

Organic Farmers Muscle Into Farm Bill

The recently passed farm bill reflects the shifting eating habits among the nation’s population, with a growing presence of new types of farmers represented in the bill.

New York Times: Organic farmers, fruit growers and hemp producers all did well in the new bill. An emphasis on locally grown, healthful foods appeals to a broad base of their constituents

“While traditional commodities subsidies were cut by more than 30 percent to $23 billion over 10 years, funding for fruits and vegetables and organic programs increased by more than 50 percent over the same period, to about $3 billion.”

“Money to help growers make the transition from conventional to organic farming rose to $57.5 million from $22 million. Money for oversight of the nation’s organic food program nearly doubled to $75 million over five years.”

“The new attention and government money devoted to healthy foods stem from the growing market power of those segments of the food business, as well as profound shifts in nutrition policy and eating habits across the country.”

“While still in the shadows of traditional farming, organics are the fastest-growing sector of the food business. Support for that movement has traditionally come from Democrats in Congress, but the organic farming provisions in the bill had broad support from both parties.”

The Government’s Pizza Policy

Brad Plumer: “The roaring success of pizza isn’t entirely a free-market story. ‘In recent years, [the USDA] has spent many millions of dollars to increase pizza consumption among U.S. children and adults, explains Parke Wilde of Tufts University.'”

pizza consumption

“The USDA runs a ‘dairy checkoff program,’ which levies a small fee on milk (15 cents for every hundredweight of milk sold or used in dairy products) and raised some $202 million in 2011. The agency then uses that money to promote products like milk and cheese. And, as it turns out, pizza.”

The losers: fruits and vegetables.

Food Prices Could Spike Without Immigration Reform

The New York Times reports that a new study commissioned by the American Farm Bureau reveals that “food prices would increase an additional 5 to 6 percent over the next five years if enforcement-only [immigration] policies were put into place, because of a lack of workers to harvest crops. It would cost the agriculture sector as much as $60 billion over the same period.”

“Agriculture officials say the current system [of granting foreign workers only temporary visas] does not work because industries like dairy farming and meat production are year-round enterprises and are unable to fill their need for workers. They also say the program is overly bureaucratic. Among the changes the farm sector wants to see is the replacement of the seasonal visa program with one that would allow workers to accept a job under a three-year visa.”

Don’t be Fooled: Agribusiness is Clear Winner in New Farm Bill

David Dayen cautions not to be “fooled” by the alleged structural reforms to the new farm bill.

“While the parties argued about how much food to take away from poor people, it’s just as revealing to look at the area where they both agreed.”

“The politicians patting themselves on the back for repealing subsidies to farmers have found a surreptitious way to deposit these savings right back in the pocket of agribusiness. That’s because the farm bill will expand subsidies for crop insurance, which … actually hands over virtually the same amount of taxpayer money to farmers, mostly wealthy ones, as the old direct payment program.”

“The shift from direct payments to crop insurance ensures that those handouts can be distributed in a hidden, more politically palatable way, making it more difficult to ever dislodge them.”

“The current farm bill expands the [crop insurance] program to cost the government $90 billion over ten years, an increase of $7 billion.”

“Referring to beneficiaries as ‘farmers’ underplays how giant agribusinesses really benefit from subsidized crop insurance.”

In short: “The final farm bill supersizes [the crop insurance program] rather than dismantling it.”

3 Things Wrong with the Farm Bill

Brad Plumer details the main criticisms surrounding the farm bill.

1. It’s too expensive. About the only guaranteed cut here is the $8.4 billion snip to food stamps.

2. The subsidies to farmers may go up, not down. In theory, the extra subsidies for crop insurance are supposed to cost less than the old direct payments did. But, again, it depends.

3. The bill cuts food stamps.

But the bill also has support: Farmers and agribusinesses, by and large, support the new crop insurance system. And hundreds of conservation groups, including the National Wildlife Federation and Nature Conservancy, favor the bill’s protections for water and soil.