SOTU watch: Farm programs

Ten words in the SOTU address last night could presage some modest reform of wasteful agricultural programs: “. . .end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them.” Maybe President Obama plans on reducing the income limits on farmers who can receive subsidies. Under the 2008 Farm Bill the per person annual limit was reduced to a mere $500,000 for non-farm income and $750,000 per year for farm income. A married couple can have farm income of $1.5 million per year and still collect taxpayer-funded payments.If indeed the Obama Administration really wants to cut waste and abuse in the federal budget, the agriculture programs provide a bloated target. As CEI noted when the Farm Bill was passed:

The nearly $300 billion (over five-years) Farm Bill simply paid off every special interest. Farmers got their direct payments, their counter-cyclical payments, their price support loan amounts, their disaster funds, etc. Some producers who weren’t subsidized before — the fruit, vegetable, and nut producers — got some gobs of R&D money that opens the door to future subsidies. The bill includes what was lauded as the “first-ever livestock title,” another group that wasn’t subsidized before.

Urban and suburban centers got their nutrition programs, their food stamps. Environmentalists got their conservation programs, though not as many as they wanted. Energy producers got some biofuel monies, and, they’ll get the USDA to buy up surplus sugar at 20 cents/lb. and sell it to ethanol producers at 10 cents/lb. Special earmarks got others on board — the ”trail to nowhere,” a taxpayer-funded land swap; forests that house fish got some money, as did salmon fisheries. And, one of my favorites, “socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers” got their pork.

It may sound picky to complain about a mere $300 billion in wasteful spending, when the stimulus package amounts to nearly $790 billion — with a lot of that going to special interests. But less than 2 percent of the U.S. workforce is employed on farms. Not many hogs, but a lot of pork.