Sad but true: The only way most American farmers stay afloat is through federal subsidies. Kansas farmers received $1.69 billion in government payments last year.
But who gets those subsidies, and for what purpose, will attract much-needed scrutiny this fall as Congress works to draft a new farm bill.
The purpose of the 1996 Freedom to Farm legislation, which expires next year, was well-meaning enough: Get farmers off the government dole and into the free market. The reality, though, is that Congress has continued to bail out farmers through emergency payments, actually expanding subsidies from $7.3 billion in 1995 to $32 billion last year. . . . What's more, 10 percent of farmers receive 61 percent of those subsidies. Much of the money goes to large farms and corporate agribusiness rather than the small family farmer trying to scratch a living out of his acreage. . . .
One attractive solution currently gaining support is to shift some focus of payments from crop subsidies to conservation subsidies, which aren't seen as "trade distorting." . . .
Boosting trade is still the key to providing a market-based income for farmers. Until market relief comes, however, subsidies are needed. . . .