Mt. Vernon Register-News


December 18, 2013

Milking the farm bill for too long


The cause of this abundance is simple: U.S. farms produce 262 percent more food than they did in 1950 while using essentially the same quantities of labor, seeds, feed and fertilizer, the Farm Bureau says. In 1950, the average dairy cow produced 5,300 pounds of milk; today, she gives 22,000 pounds.

U.S. agriculture is so productive that even natural disaster doesn’t threaten food supply as much as it once did.

Remember how we absolutely had to pass a farm bill in 2012, to save us from that year’s drought, which was the most extensive in half a century?

Well, “[i]t is now clear that the impact of the drought on retail food prices will be smaller than initially forecast,” the USDA reports.”The inflationary pressure of the drought has been offset by factors such as decreased exports of many U.S. agricultural products, a stronger U.S. dollar, low energy price inflation, and decreased prices for many commodities not affected by the drought.”

Food-supply alarmism is a staple theme of ag-lobby propaganda. The menace this year is a spike in milk prices — to $8 a gallon! — if there’s no farm bill and the government is forced to buy up the supply, per an obscure 1949 law.

A recent report in Time explains that this is overblown, partly because the agriculture secretary can delay purchases and partly because other relevant costs, such as transportation, won’t be affected.

For the ag lobby, though, the point is to keep people worrying about a price hike instead of questioning the absurd legal quirk that makes one possible in the first place.

Supporters of the farm bill note that both the House and Senate versions would eliminate the egregious subsidy of direct payments that automatically awards growers of certain favored commodities $5 billion a year. That is a real reform.

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