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Re: E-M:/ RE: / who benefits from Michigan farm subsidies?



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Enviro-Mich message from DR91061@aol.com
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Guest Editorial - Michigan Farm Bureau response to farm program payments
EWG Farm Program payment arguments defy logic and reality

The recent articles published in the Booth chain of newspapers about the 
level of farm program payments received by Michigan Farm Bureau board members 
makes for sensational headlines, but conveniently ignores many crucial facts. 

We feel compelled to set the record straight and point out the obvious - that 
the Environmental Working Group (EWG) was finally successful in its attempt 
to find a media pawn in its largely unsuccessful efforts to discredit U.S. 
farm policy and the Farm Bureau organization. Here's what EWG isn't telling 
consumers and Congressmen.

First, our calculations show that the farm program payments received by the 
seven board members in question actually represents .12 percent. That's 1/8th 
of one percent of the total farm program payments in Michigan.

Secondly, EWG automatically assumes that "large farms" mean "corporate 
farms," which means they must be displacing "family farms." In reality many 
of the farms in Michigan - and elsewhere for that matter - consist of 
multiple family members from multiple generations working within one entity. 
In most cases these families are operating farms larger than what they could 
individually on their own. 

In the case of our board president, Wayne Wood, the $264,634 cited by EWG was 
for a five-year period, spread over four families, which equates to 
approximately $13,200 per family member per year. EWG is either unaware of 
that vital fact, or it is intentionally misleading the public into believing 
a single individual is receiving all farm payments when, in reality, those 
payments, along with all other farm revenue and expenses, are shared among 
many families operating within one business entity.

Thirdly, these farm program payments have been even more crucial in Michigan 
this past year, which experienced significant weather-related crop losses, in 
addition to historically low commodity prices. According to the Michigan 
Agriculture Statistics Service, corn prices have dropped nearly 29 percent 
from $2.66 per bushel in 1996 to $1.90 per bushel in 2000. Soybean prices 
dropped nearly 34 percent from $7.15 per bushel in 1996 to $4.75 per bushel 
in 2000. Wheat prices dropped a staggering 46 percent from $3.91 per bushel 
in 1996 to $2.10 per bushel in 2000. And finally, dry bean prices plummeted 
36 percent from $21.70 per cwt. in 1996 to $13.90 per cwt. in 2000

Meanwhile, total production expenses for Michigan farmers, for the same 
period in question, increased 9.6 percent from $3,578.7 million to $3,922.2 
million.

Fourth, in its attempt to sell its social program agenda, EWG argues that if 
funds were reallocated to conservation programs, farmers would share equally 
in U.S. farm program payments. If we were to apply EWG's logic on farm 
subsidy payments to our system of collecting income taxes, each American 
family would pay the same amount of income tax, regardless of actual income. 

More importantly, the actual number of dollars available on a per acre basis, 
or per unit of production basis for environmental cost-sharing under EWG's 
scheme would not be equitable, since payments would be based on the number of 
farms. 

In other words, a farmer with total sales under $10,000 operating 70 acres 
would receive the same farm payment as a farmer with sales over $100,000 
operating 720 acres. How fair is that? More importantly - how wise is that 
approach? Does it help preserve the world's most progressive agriculture or 
does it, in reality, destroy it?

While economics, weather-related crop losses, and the Asian financial crisis 
all contributed to the dismal farm economy and the trend toward fewer and 
larger farm operations, environmental organizations can also take credit. 

Many of the regulations they seek, such as requiring additional permits on 
livestock operations, and the cancellation of safe, dependable crop 
protection tools through unscientific implementation of the Food Quality 
Protection Act, is costing American agriculture an estimated $22 billion 
annually, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Additional regulations will only accelerate the squeeze on family farms, 
forcing them to either downsize and seek off-farm employment, or expand so 
that they can take advantage of the economies of scale to compete and cover 
additional costs. Ironically, this is the very segment of production 
agriculture that the EWG claims to represent and defend.

When Congress approved the last farm bill, it also pledged to reduce the 
regulatory burdens placed on production agriculture, to expand trade 
opportunities and provide tax reform. It has done neither. In fact, Congress 
has yet to pass an Economic Stimulus package, which would have provided 
specific agricultural tax reform measures. 

Meanwhile, U.S. agricultural exports have actually declined. Since 1996, U.S. 
agricultural exports have actually plummeted 20 percent from a high of $60.5 
billion to a low of $48.4 billion in 1999. Even today, Congress has yet to 
approve Trade Promotion Authority to further expand trade opportunities for 
U.S. agriculture.

Finally, and most importantly, EWG fails to acknowledge that farm program 
payments are a public investment in the nation's food, environmental, and 
economic security.  Those payments ultimately provide low-income families 
access to an affordable and safe food supply.

Farm program payments help provide some measure of stability to the volatile 
business of food production, keeping Americans supplied with the safest and 
most affordable food in the world. In its quest to sell its social program, 
EWG has ignored the facts and insulted the farmers in this state who deal 
with the realities of trying to keep their farms afloat and provide a 
reasonable level of income for their families.

Perhaps its time that EWG be challenged to present and acknowledge all of the 
facts. Denying the economic realities of modern agriculture and the Farm 
Bureau's grassroots policy development process is nothing more than a smear 
campaign that undermines their credibility as a legitimate organization. This 
tactic proves that desperate people do desperate things. 

It also proves that our elected officials know that Farm Bureau is an 
organization of farmers that truly does speak for farmers. Preserving all of 
the green space in the country won't mean a thing if we can't also preserve 
the family farmers who are the backbone of U.S. agriculture.
 
Sincerely,
Wayne H. Wood, President, Michigan Farm Bureau
on behalf of the Michigan Farm Bureau Board of Directors.


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