First of all, I need to say thank you. You shouldn't have. Really, you shouldn't have.
Last October, you taxpayers sent me a check for $5,010. This was on top of a very nice year in farming. Our yields were down from the drought, but decent. Prices were near all-time highs. In the end, 2012 was one of the best years ever for corn and soybean farming, here and nationally. Even where the drought was severe, insurance payments put farmers into the black.
The $5,010 "direct payment" was part of the current farm bill, officially the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008. Five billion was paid out last year in direct payments based on acres and historic production. I don't farm that many acres, so my payment was pretty small taters. There were some hefty checks sent out, much larger than mine.
I mentioned to a farmer friend that I was going to write about this. He predicted that it would lead to round of farmer bashing. I suppose he is right. But that's not my point here. I do want to bash non-common sense.
I would also point out that the average American is currently paying $114,000 into Medicare and taking out $355,000. That would be a whale of a problem; direct payments are a guppy. So unless the farmer-basher doesn't plan to hang around past 65, they are also recipients of vast government largesse and in no position to cast the first stone.
A case can be made for government involvement in agriculture. Supporting and guaranteeing a steady supply of food is worthwhile. Nations that have known hunger understand that, and we fool ourselves if we think that can't ever happen. There is also a place for government to support conservation. These amazing soils shouldn't be lost or used up. We have a moral obligation to pass them to the future.
There were years back in the nineties when the government payments were all the profit there was on the farm. My wife and I lived off that and whatever we made off the farm. Then, the farm bill was definitely serving to stabilize agriculture.
A case can be made for government involvement, but did I need that payment last October? Hardly. Am I going to turn it down? Whadyanuts? Seriously, there is a part of farming that is competitive, and I am not going to disadvantage my farm from the farm across the road.
But, c'mon. Isn't there someone, somewhere who can look at $5 billion being sent out to farmers in the most profitable year in farming history and say, "Wait a second"?
Sure we took it and spent it, and it contributed to our rural economy. But this comes during a time of massive deficits. You know the painful debates and budget battles we've had to endure. If farmers were going to be paid for growing corn in 2012, at least, it should have been linked to yield or price or sunspots or the American League standings. Instead, we got $5 billion because, well, just because.
To make matters worse, the farm bill is up for renewal and last fall, Congress developed a new one. In it direct payments were finally eliminated. Everybody agreed to it, both parties and all the farm groups. Then as part of the fiscal cliff debate, since no one wanted to decide anything, the old farm bill was extended. With direct payments! Only in Washington can everybody agree to something. And then do the opposite.
The frustration here is that most of us want to see government work. I'm glad there's a Tea Party and I'm glad there's an Occupy Wall Street. I think good healthy partisan debate has always been part of American politics. But most of us swim in the ocean between the extreme right and left.
We want good schools and roads. We want there to be a safety net for those who suffer misfortune. We want there to be parks and libraries to take our kids to. We want policemen to protect our home, and a strong military to protect our country. We want to see government work: efficiently, economically, fairly. You could say, as taxpayers, we want to get our money's worth.
Unfortunately we all know stories about government not working. We all know about the military paying $100 for a $3 hammer. Everybody jokes about the government worker leaning on his shovel. The right lies awake at night worrying about some schmoe cheating on food stamps; the left can't sleep because of the corporate executive rigging government bids.
In those examples, there is someone to blame. The frustrating part of the unneeded and unwanted farm payment, is that there does not seem to be anyone to blame. Farmers in Brown County had little to do with the farm bill, and you certainly can't blame the good folks who work at our Farm Service Agency. Congressmen Walz, House Ag Chair Lucas, Senators Franken and Klobuchar, Senate Ag Chair Stabenow, and Secretary of Ag Vilsack are all intelligent, accomplished people. Can't any of them state the obvious?
Just because a bill made sense in 2008, are we bound to it no matter how nonsensical it becomes? Someone should be able to call foul when a government program just becomes silly.
That's what's frustrating about my October gift and that's why I say you really shouldn't have.