- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 18, 2002

One of the newest pastimes for political pundits, talk show hosts and editorial writers is to bash U.S. farmers and U.S. farm policy. Driven by politics and misinformation, the rhetoric long ago abandoned reason and fact. The American public is fed a steady diet of mistruths about farming. Consider these:

Farmers are living high on the hog at the federal subsidy trough.

The fact is in 2001 farmers earned their lowest real net cash income since the Great Depression. In 2002, they suffered through the fifth straight year of record low prices for many commodities. And fuel prices are propelling production costs to an all-time record.

Time magazine ran a story May 6 on the "hot" and the "cold" jobs for the coming decade. Second on the "cold" list was phone-switchboard operators with a projected job loss of 60,000. First? Farmers and ranchers with a projected loss in jobs of 328,000.

• Farmers are bilking taxpayers and driving up the cost of food.

Farm supports were created to keep farmers in business and food supply constant so costs can stay low. The reality is that U.S. farm policy costs pennies per meal. American consumers enjoy the safest, most abundant, and most affordable food supply in the world at less than 11 percent of income. Consumers in Japan and Germany pay 17 percent for their food. Mexicans pay 25 percent and in India they pay 51 percent.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's budget is about 3.5 percent of the total federal budget, yet farmers only receive about 1 percent of the federal budget. Of its $74 billion total, $24.2 billion is earmarked for food stamps. Nutritional programs such as the Women, Infants and Children program also receive USDA funding.

• U.S. farm subsidies exceed those of the rest of the world … .

In truth, foreign supports are more than 6 times higher than those of U.S. farmers. The European Union pays its farmers an average of $309 per acre; Japan pays $4,606 per acre, while U.S. payments average only $49 per acre. And U.S. farm exports face foreign tariffs averaging 62 percent, which are more than 5 times the average imposed by the United States.

The 2002 farm bill is not perfect. However, it is a good farm bill. It provides a safety net for farmers by protecting them from floods, drought or other vagaries of weather. It gives some protection against the unfair trading practices of the European Union and others. And it does a very good job of protecting U.S. consumers by keeping U.S. food the cheapest and safest anywhere in the world.

Are U.S. farmers greedy feeders at the federal pork trough? Judge for yourself. Drive out to a rural area near you where there are real working farms. Observe the work hours and work conditions. You're more likely to see the same house the farmer was born in and that a parent or grandparent built. You will see well-worked pickups probably covered in mud or dust.

U.S. farmers are not living high at the federal trough. They are struggling. They are going out of business. They are working hard to make a living. Remember that today as you spend less than 11 percent of your income on the safest food in the world. What is going to happen to food costs when those 328,000 quit farming over the next 10 years?


S. Richard Tolman is chief executive officer of the National Corn Growers Association based in St. Louis, Mo.


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