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Ag subsidies must change

The following is an editorial from the Mankato Free Press.

Bringing up the merits of the Farm Bill can be a touchy subject in southern Minnesota. Farms and agribusiness — including the major soybean processing industry in Mankato — provides an enormous boost to the area’s economy. Everyone benefits, to some extent, from a healthy local ag economy.

But as Congress looks at budget cutting across the board, it’s clear that many portions of the farm program — particularly the $5-billion-a-year in direct payments to farmers in good and bad years — needs to reformed and reduced.

The farm program was created as part of New Deal legislation to provide a safety net for Depression-era farmers. Today it is skewed toward corn, soybean and wheat farms, which are given subsidies even when crops are good and commodity prices high.

The top, most successful 1 percent of farms take the lion’s share of the payments. And the payments prod farmers to plant crops that most fully exploit the payment system rather than planting based on market demand.

The farm program also works against land conservation by incentivizing crop production on highly sensitive land.

Bringing reform to the Farm Bill has long been proposed but always brought down by a strong farm lobby and powerful farm-state members of Congress.

This time around, a group of Democrats who see the direct payments as corporate welfare and Republicans who are looking for deficit reduction may have built an alliance that will bring change.

One leading proposal would cut $30 billion from the farm program over 10 years, mostly from direct payments.

But there are other proposals — with, we believe, more merit — that would cut less and shift some of the direct payments into conservation programs and a beefed-up crop insurance program that would protect farmers whose crops and income are damaged by nature.

It’s time Congress does what everyone knows is the right thing to do.

This editorial appeared May 31 in the Mankato Free Press. It is reprinted with permission.

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