Food subsidies: Farms, ranches are essential part of our economy

Friday, August 18, 2006

By Jo Ann Emerson

For the past week I have toured farms, ranches and agribusinesses across the 8th Congressional District on my annual farm tour. Every stop on the tour is different, but practically everywhere I went I spoke to someone about a recent column by Jonah Goldberg which appeared in this paper.

Farmers are welfare kings, writes Mr. Goldberg, and American agriculture policy (subsidies in particular) are undermining important ag development in the rest of the world. Our producers should go it alone, he thinks, without taxpayer support of any kind.

His insulting column demands a response on behalf of every hardworking farmer, rancher and businessperson with whom I have met over the last week.

In the midst of a terrible energy crisis with no end in sight, it is American agriculture which raises the opportunity for energy independence. Not only are our farmers excited about this idea, but Missouri researchers and business leaders are extracting fuel from our fields and forests. That important work is grounded in rural America.

We have seen what reliance on foreign oil can do to our American economy, so I cannot comprehend why Mr. Goldberg would engage the same policy in order to outsource the production of our food supply.

I do not know if Mr. Goldberg understands that America's farms and ranches are an essential part of our economy, our culture, and our future. I do know he eats the food raised on those farms and ranches. And I can guess at what that food would cost if we did not support our ag producers.

The American ag producer is the only person in this country who buys at retail prices, sells at wholesale prices and pays shipping both ways.

Our system is constructed in a way that puts our farms and ranches in debt before the first cow moos or the first bean sprouts. It is a system in danger of failing simply because there are fewer and fewer young men and women willing to take on the considerable risks and challenges of producing this country's food supply. If Mr. Goldberg had his way, they would all move to the city as the light of our agrarian economy sputters and goes out.

Mr. Goldberg's ignorance of these concepts is all the more infuriating because his opinions are shared by many who grow up in urban areas and never see rural America or understand where corn comes from or what can be done with it.

Many of my colleagues in Congress also reject the idea of payment programs, I believe, because they have never visited a working farm. If they had, they would see what I do: the blood, sweat and tears of men and women who choose a demanding profession rife with uncertainties, including weather, energy costs and crop prices. They would see that America does not subsidize farms. We subsidize food.

The benefit of the payment received by the farmer may enable him or her to get a loan to buy better equipment, true.

But the ultimate effect of the farm bill and payment programs is to keep the prices of everything on the grocery store shelves -- from New Madrid County to New York City -- stable and low.

If we are to ever extend this cheap food policy to also become a cheap energy policy, we must support the American producer's mission to run a farm that at least breaks even and one that stays in the family as well.

Jo Ann Emerson of Cape Girardeau represents the 8th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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