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Re: SG-W:/ farm subsidies

Here's a New York Times article on reaction to the farm subsidies online 
database: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/27/national/27FARM.html 

Here's the text:

>> December 27, 2001
Farmers Abashed, or Irate, Over Subsidy List
PERU, Ill., Dec. 21 — With their fields resting under a thin layer of frost 
and their tractors put away for the winter, farmers have time to sit around 
coffee shops and fume over having their most private secrets spread across 
the newspaper for everyone to talk about.

"It was like being outed," said Keith R. Bolin, a grain and hog farmer from 
Sheffield, who received $130,343 in farm subsidy payments from the federal 
government over five years. "But to be honest with you, I don't mind. It was 
a wake-up call, making us look like we're not all that different from the 
welfare mothers in Chicago."

The newly published secrets fueling the farmers' talk of rage and 
recrimination here and across rural America come from a Web site that has 
made public for the first time every farm subsidy payment received by every 
farmer since 1996. 

That means everyone — farmer and city dweller alike — now knows exactly how 
dependent on the government farmers have become since the Freedom to Farm Act 
of 1996 and how the most dependent are the top 10 percent or 20 percent who 
receive a disproportionately large share of the subsidies. Nationally, farm 
subsidies total about $20 billion a year. 

For rural communities, the list has caused embarrassment and some jealousy. 

"This Web site isn't going to help us much," said Randy Michelini, a Grand 
Ridge corn farmer who received $28,890 over five years. "It will be used as 
ammunition against farmers. Now a lot of farmers feel violated, and some just 
feel plain jealous." 

The men here and at other coffee stops on Interstate 80 said it was one thing 
for them to know that the government checks were often the only thing keeping 
them from having to give up and move off the land. It was another to see the 
awkwardly large subsidies printed in the community newspaper.

"I don't like people knowing my business, but to be a viable farmer you have 
to have government support — especially since crop prices went so flat," said 
John Dollinger, a fifth-generation Minooka farmer whose family came from 
Germany in the early 19th century and has raised corn on the same land ever 

Mr. Dollinger, who received $362,068 over five years, said, "If you're not a 
farmer, you don't understand our business and how bad prices have been the 
last five years."

After the anger comes the inevitable reflection about how farming has changed 
during those five years. Small family farmers are being driven out by flat 
grain prices, kept artificially low in part by government subsidies that 
encourage overproduction. The more acres of grain or cotton a farmer owns, 
the bigger the subsidy. The subsidy programs also help ensure that when 
prices are low, the government will help make up the difference.

At current prices, it costs a farmer as much as 50 cents more to raise a 
bushel of corn than he receives on the market. The biggest winners, many 
farmers say, are the huge grain companies that buy inexpensive corn 
subsidized by the taxpayer and then process and sell it at a profit.

Michael Veit of La Salle, another farmer drinking coffee with Mr. Dollinger 
at the RPlace restaurant outside Morris, Ill., said he felt strange talking 
about how much he received from the government — more than $210,000 over five 
years. But Mr. Veit said that if he had to talk about the subsidies, he also 
wanted the taxpayer to know that corn prices had been so low that he had to 
take a second job driving a truck.

"I sure wish I had that $210,000 in my bank account, but it all went to pay 
my bills," Mr. Veit said. "These farm programs are driving a lot of smaller 
farmers right out of business, pushing the crop prices down and the rents for 
land up."

Should anyone doubt those claims, all they need do is read local newspapers 
like The Ottawa Daily Times, The Bureau County Republican or The Morris Daily 
Herald to see how their big neighbors have expanded their farms, thanks to 
subsidy payments that are often 10 times what they have been receiving.

"It explains a lot," said Rod Thorson, a Republican candidate for the 
Illinois Senate and a local farm radio broadcaster. "You can see from the 
payment lists how the rich farmers can afford to buy up the small ones like 
cannibals, all subsidized by the government."

Here in La Salle County, that disparity means that while more than 4,000 
farmers received a total of $136 million in subsidies, the top two farms got 
more than $1 million apiece and everyone else in the top 20 received at least 
$300,000, leaving very little for the bottom of the list.

The data for the country was retrieved by the Environmental Working Group 
through the Freedom of Information Act and then put on a Web site, 
www.ewg.org. The nonprofit group hopes the information will lead to limits on 
subsidies and more financing for conservation programs for farmers.

Since it became public, the Web site has received more than 11 million hits 
and inspired rural newspapers to publish lists of the top — and in some cases 
the bottom — recipients, causing initial embarrassment and then a wave of 
curiosity as farmers log on to find their names.

"We've had farmers call and tell us they didn't know how much their tenants 
were receiving in subsidies until they saw the Web site, and now they want to 
renegotiate their contracts," said Ken Cook, the head of Environmental 
Working Group.

It has also touched off a debate in Congress, where lawmakers are deadlocked 
over how to change farm policy. Farm-state lawmakers said they would canvass 
their constituents over the holiday recess to see whether the knowledge of 
who gets what size of subsidy has fueled support for greater changes to farm 
policy, like limiting subsidies or restructuring the program entirely. 

Mr. Thorson, the host of two daily farm radio programs, said he took a 
telephone poll to gauge farmer sentiment before he went on the air a few 
weeks ago and read the names of the top recipients.

"I got about 40 phone calls, and only one of them said he didn't want to hear 
his name read," Mr. Thorson said.

Since then, farmers have taped the newspaper lists to the dashboards of their 
trucks and stuck them on their refrigerator doors as a reminder of who is 
profiting from the dismal state of agriculture.

Don J. Schiff, an officer of the Union Bank in Princeton, Ill., said the 
public list had made farmers jumpy. 

"This Web site has had a furious impact," Mr. Schiff said. "Now the public 
knows what we bankers have known for a long time: that farmers have lost 
their freedom. It's as plain as the nose on the end of your face." 

Everyone around the cafe table agreed that the only question was how much 
longer the taxpayer would subsidize a system that was helping everyone but 
the small family farmer it was intended to save.

"Not more than 10 years is my guess," Mr. Schiff said. "Then I wonder what 
will be left out here."  <<

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