I was looking for progress on the U.S. Farm bill, as discussed earlier.  However, this is more in the nature of a news roundup: and not terribly encouraging, either.

1. Taking it to the constituents:
The Agricultural Committee of the U.S. Senate will go to Great Falls, Montana, for a “field hearing” on the Farm Bill still being crafted in the Senate, for constituent output.  July 2: be there or be square.  No mention is being made of Agriculture Committe members talking to U.S. consumers–which is the other “larger than half” of the national community whose interests are at stake.

2. Beneficiaries weigh in:
North Dakota’s Grain Growers Association (NGGA) is disappointed with the “poor safety net” for wheat production:

The House Agriculture Committee proposes to cut direct payments to farmers in order to provide miniscule increases in wheat target payments and loan rates. The House proposal sets the target price for wheat at $4.15, well under the NAWG Farm Bill proposal of $5.29, which was the national average cost of production of wheat in 2005 and 2006. Additionally, the proposal sets loan rates for wheat at $2.94, up slightly from the present loan rate of $2.75.

On June 7, National Farmers Union President Tom Buis testified to the U.S. House Small Business Committee in support of the Farm Bill.  In particular, his group wants a bill that creates economic opportunity and restores profitability to rural America.  The words are sufficiently vague as to call into question whether the NFU wants a change of focus or things exactly as they are.  But since he went on to focus on grain production, I’m assuming that the NFU is with the NGGA: more of the same, only More of more of the same.

In Sitka, fishermen are contemplating a new status in the Farm Bill as “farmers of the sea”.  Alaska salmon has been ruled an agricultural product , and therefore worthy of subsidy–look for Alaska fish in your school lunchrooms soon.

In the meantime, produce growers in the West have felt slighted over the provisions of past Farm Bills and have banded together to lobby for their own crops.  This would at least fit with developing parity between healthier diet for America than previously, but would make the bill even more unwieldy:

Helping their cause is a coalition of 90 specialty crop groups and several lawmakers in the West.   The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance has endorsed the Equitable Agriculture Today for a Healthy America Act or E.A.T. Healthy America Act. The alliance – whose members include several California farm organizations, the Idaho Grower Shippers Association, the Oregon Winegrowers Association and the Washington Red Raspberry Commission – aims to shape the farm bill debate.

Looks like we could get lower prices for good wine too–but at a higher tax rate (or a higher national budget deficit rate) and probably not in the school cafeteria. 

3. Calls to slight virtue:
The environment: American Agriculturist notes that increased corn production for biofuels also increases the use of nitrogen fertilizers.  Fertilizer runoff into the Mississippi has not only polluted the Big Muddy but also contributed to the5,000 square mile “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.  The article suggests, along with the Environmental Defense Fund, that farmers who comply with safe nitrogen fertilizer use should be rewarded by the Farm Bill.

An Article that sums it up nicely from a consumer point of view: Why a carrot costs more than a Twinkie by Andrea Hopkins.

4. Exposure of weird beneficiaries to the Farm Bill:
In Ohio, city parks and churches are also getting farm bill payments.  This wouldn’t only occur in Ohio, I’m sure.  This article also links to a database of Farm Bill beneficiaries–now that’s a nice idea that will promote accountability–provided we attend to it.

5. Foreign policy:
The Kansas City Star features a Dutch dairy farmer who says he does not need farm subsidies on his dairy farm and looks forward to a some-day-distant market economy.  How about it, folks?

The point here, however: with new opportunities for grain growers opening up in biofuels–grain farmers do not need subsidies, nor do large successful agribusinesses, nor do churches or city parks.  The parity that vegetable and specialty crop growers are demanding could be created by diminished subsidies to grain, rather than adding subsidies for vegetable crops: so that more carrots get grown, and become cheaper relative to snack cakes and other non-food food.  The list of potential beneficiaries appear to be growing, while the inappropriate recipients of Farm Bill largesse (which is Your Tax Dollars) are not falling off the list.

Your democracy at work?  Just remember: the squeaking pig gets the trough.  Maybe the Ag Committee needs to come to your grocery store or your PTA. 

Maybe we need to do a little of our own squeaking for a change.

Photo: Ritsumei