The money comes from a misguided 1996 farm law that was meant to phase out farm subsidies that began during the Depression. Though the subsidies helped farmers who were facing low prices, they imposed strict controls on crops to be grown, which still existed into the early 1990s.
The farm bill, dubbed “Freedom to Farm,” was meant to remove these government limits and phase out the subsidies by offering farmers an annual fixed cash payment based on the farm’s number of acres.
The payments came without restrictions, meaning the farmers received the money as long as they did not develop the land (even if nothing was planted).
Although the annual payments were supposed to decline over a seven-year period to transition farmers away from the subsidies, the program has been expanded.
As a result, non-farmers who are moving into residential areas that once were farmland are receiving government checks just for living on the land. Some of these individuals are also taking advantage of steep property tax cuts meant for farmland.
Wealthy farmers are also still receiving annual payments, regardless of whether or not they are growing the subsidized crop.
Efforts to revise the farm subsidies have been continually thwarted by powerful farm lobbyists. Under this absurd system, even dead farmers have received payments from the government. And it doesn’t look like things are going to get any better soon.
The farm bill is revised every five years, including in 2007. However, the $286-billion 2007 Senate farm bill actually expanded subsidies for wheat, barley, oats and soybeans (even though they are bringing in record prices) and did not reduce any direct payments (including those that go to huge agri-business farms that earn millions of dollars a year).
As critics have put it, this is essentially giving “welfare to millionaires.”
More than 90 percent of the big government subsidies go to farms that grow corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans and rice, while smaller farms may get next to nothing. Some of the largest farming corporations get hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in government payments.
In short, this bill ensures that wealthy farmers will continue to get fat checks in the mail, and so will people who may never have set foot onto a parcel of soil.
Meanwhile, the few small, family-owned farms that are left will continue to struggle and be unable to compete with the agri-giants that have taken over the way food is grown in the United States.
The massive industrialization of farming in the United States, which is being directly supported by the government, is not only a financial issue: it is putting the future of your food supply in jeopardy.
Food grown by mega-corporations, using technological fixes like chemical fertilizers and genetic modification, will never provide the nourishment of food grown in healthy soil with natural methods, that you can purchase from a nearby farmer.
Industrial agriculture lobbyists have massive power over Congress, but they cannot dictate where you choose to buy food for your family. So please do your health a favor and support the small family farms in your area. You’ll receive nutritious food from a source that you can trust, and you’ll be supporting the honest work of a real family farm.