Friday, October 14, 2005

A tough choice: payment limits for the best-paid farmers or cuts to conservation programs?

Aimee Witteman, a family farm activist and student in my U.S. Food Policy class, has a commentary yesterday in Rodale's New Farm. In a budgetary environment where something must be cut from the agriculture account, Witteman compares the merits of limiting payments to the farmers with the largest subsidies or cutting the Conservation Security Program (CSP).

Payment limits --
Payment limitations are not an elimination of subsidies; rather, they are a way to discipline the $10 billion-$20 billion dollar a year commodity programs in a way that targets only those farmers already reaping well over $250,000 from the government. The savings from payment limitations could ease the pressure on food stamps and conservation programs while also preserving rural communities and keeping family farmers on their land by reducing land-price inflation. Utilizing payment limitations is clearly a more equitable and rational way to produce the needed budget savings.
Cutting the CSP --
The CSP represents a positive example of an alternative direction in agriculture. Unlike any other federal program, the CSP payments are available to all farmers and ranchers who develop a plan to protect resources of concern. We have hardly begun to see how this new program, passed in the 2002 Farm Bill, can flourish if implemented and funded adequately so that farmers can actually take advantage of it. Environmental and energy costs, strengthening hurricane storms, and pressure from our World Trade Organization (WTO) trading partners are impacting and being influenced by the way we produce food in the United States. The CSP seeks to achieve energy conservation and riparian protection, and is also accepted by the WTO for its non-trade-distorting status. Perhaps most importantly, the CSP is supported by a growing number of consumers who are demanding food that is produced by farmers taking concrete steps to ensure the sustainability of the land for future generations.
Tough choice!

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