The story predictably attacked the usual suspects: direct payments and conservation programs. And while the reporter, William LaJeunesse, talked to someone from the American Farm Bureau Federation as well as a farmer from Illinois, the story didn’t exactly frame the discussion in a way that could lead a viewer to make up his or her own mind. After all, it was titled “Subsidies Bloat Agriculture Budget.”
The story quotes Steve Ellis from Taxpayers for Common Sense, whose argument originates from the typical misunderstanding of the programs. Mr. Ellis says, “We cannot afford to lavish these subsidies on corporate agribusiness.”
Mr. Ellis misleads when he calls farmers who receive support ‘corporate agribusiness.’ Technically, any farmer who sells more than $1,000 worth of products could be called ‘corporate agribusiness.’ But the more a farm produces, the more vulnerable it is to risk and wild income swings; it’s also more expensive to run. Therefore it is vital these larger farms remain stable. Viewers also weren’t told that payments are based on how much is produced—farmers aren’t receiving disproportional payments hand over fist. And in some years, based on crop yields, crop conditions and market prices, many farmers don’t receive any federal payments.
Mr. Ellis also falls back on the mischaracterization that farmers get paid not to farm. Viewers weren’t told that ‘getting paid not to farm’ is part of being enrolled in land conservation programs. These programs, which are subject to federal guidelines, help to: reduce soil erosion; restore wetlands and buffers; reduce carbon dioxide emissions; provide wildlife habitats and refuges; protect environmentally sensitive land; and safeguard ground water and surface water sources.
It’s important for taxpayers and the media to understand why this issue needs fair examination. Farmers and farm organizations are aware of—and greatly concerned about—the federal deficit. And they would prefer to rely on the marketplace for their income. But while U.S. farm income was expected to be up 24% in 2010, it was DOWN 38% in 2009. Those are the kinds of wild market swings that can put a farmer out of business.
And as Illinois farmer Steve Pitstick said in the FOX piece, “It is kind of a national security thing.” He’s absolutely right. It is vital to our nation that farmers stay in business from one year to the next. History shows a hungry nation—or a nation dependent on others for food—is a vulnerable and unstable nation.
One last bit of information with regard to the title of the story—“Subsidies Bloat Agriculture Budget.” Ag programs are expected to make up only 2% of total federal spending over the next ten years. 75% of total farm bill spending will go to nutritional programs—programs that have literally helped put food on people’s tables during these tough economic times. 9% of farm bill spending will go to crop insurance; 7% to conservation, and 7% to “subsidies.” In other words, a miniscule .14% of all federal expenditures go to farm program payments. (Said another way, just over one tenth of one percent of the entire federal budget.)
Including ALL of that information would have been fair and balanced.