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U.S. Opinions: Chicago

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The farm bill’s many flaws

From an editorial Wednesday in the Chicago Tribune:

The Senate approved a nearly $1 trillion farm bill Monday night that proves Washington is still bent on catering to special interests and wasting taxpayers’ money.

Let’s count the ways.

The Senate bill perpetuates a sugar subsidy that raises the price of sweets and shuts out foreign competition. Great for the sugar industry, terrible for consumers.

The bill creates a new sweetheart deal for the dairy industry: an insurance program that will drive up prices by triggering production cuts when there’s an oversupply of product. Good for the dairy industry, terrible for consumers.

The bill perpetuates the vast government subsidies for crop insurance. The government will continue to pay more than half the cost of the insurance. Farmers get subsidized and get a perverse financial incentive to take excessive risks without having to worry if their crops fail. Taxpayers get gouged.

The bill largely spurns Obama administration efforts to reform the international food aid program. Most food will still be bought in the U.S. and shipped abroad, rather than be purchased where it will be consumed. That’s good for U.S. growers and shippers, but drives up the cost to taxpayers and reduces the number of people who are fed.

The bill cuts $4 billion over 10 years in the food-stamp program, but does little to deal with fraud in the program.

The bill in many ways distorts the marketplace for food. The biggest culprit is crop insurance. Years ago, it helped farmers to weather drought and flood. These days, it has morphed into a giveaway that enables the big, sophisticated farm operators to lock in their annual revenues.

With less and less risk of bearing a loss, farmers have started planting what’s known in the heartland as “corn-on-corn.” Instead of rotating the crop in each field year by year, some farmers have been planting only corn. Corn last year. Corn this year. Corn next year.

That’s poor stewardship, contrary to the critical goal of sustainability. It contributes to soil erosion and depletes nutrients. It breeds pests and crop diseases. Yet it’s lucrative.

The Senate has failed again to come up with a far-reaching farm bill. The House will take up its own version in the coming weeks. Congress, come on. Wean the agriculture industry off of welfare.

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