You choose, we deliver
If you are interested in this story, you might be interested in others from The Journal Gazette. Go to and pick the subjects you care most about. We'll deliver your customized daily news report at 3 a.m. Fort Wayne time, right to your email.

Editorial columns

  • Short-sighted decision shortchanges students
    Since taking office last year, one of the most exciting things I've seen in Indiana has been the growing momentum and support for early-childhood education.
  • In the best interests of Hoosier children
    Earlier this year our state made history by approving the first state-funded pre-kindergarten grant program for low-income families in Indiana.
  • Domestic violence a worldwide scourge
    Many of us have found ourselves shocked at the sight of Super Bowl champion Ray Rice punching his then fiancée, now wife, so hard in the face that she was rendered unconscious.

Feds overcompensate underappreciated farmers

In addition to a great football game, this year’s Super Bowl audience witnessed a memorable paean to the hardworking American farmer: a Dodge commercial featuring the recorded gravelly tones of the late Paul Harvey. Farm-state politicians were quick to exploit it: Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters he “hopes the people of America will wake up and appreciate the family farmers of America.”

Actually, farming no longer resembles the hardscrabble family enterprise of so much mawkish marketing. Much of it is dominated by large operators supplying not only the U.S. dinner table but also far-flung export markets. Notwithstanding a major drought, net farm income for 2012 reached $112.8 billion, according to the Agriculture Department, down only slightly from the previous year’s record of $117.9 billion in 2011. USDA expects farm income to hit a post-1973 high of $128.2 billion in 2013.

The department also forecasts that 2013 net equity in the farm sector will exceed $2 trillion (in constant 2005 dollars). Land prices are booming because of strong crop prices and the Federal Reserve’s low-interest-rate policy. Large agriculture-related companies are swarming Midwest campuses, snapping up agricultural science students.

Farmers are wealthy, the U.S. food supply is not remotely at risk – and yet the government still piles on the subsidies. They totaled an annual average of $11.5 billion over the past four years, according to the USDA. Farmers get direct payments for growing certain commodities, deeply subsidized crop insurance, cash rewards for practicing soil conservation – you name it. The programs distort markets and shift resources to agriculture that might find more efficient use elsewhere. Sorry, ag science grads: That includes your labor.

Congress failed to produce a new five-year version of the farm bill last year, a turn of events many bemoaned as the latest manifestation of Washington gridlock.

It was lamentable, in that nutrition aid for the poor got caught up in the fight. But as for the farm subsidies themselves, there was no need to rush. The bill contained “reforms” that would have ended the most egregious direct payments to major commodity producers – and replaced them with an enhanced “crop insurance” program that’s arguably just as lush.

Amid this milieu, Grassley is a relatively reform-minded figure. Last week, he and a bipartisan group of three other senators offered a bill that would cap subsidies at $125,000 per farmer or $250,000 for a married couple. It’s a reprise of legislation he’s offered in the past – and it’s certainly a step in the right direction. But limiting agricultural corporate welfare to a quarter-million dollars per couple is a far cry from a total rethink of farm policy, which might start with this question: Perhaps God made the farmer, as Harvey says. But does the federal taxpayer have to make him rich?