Farm subsidies need cutting, not pruning

Stuart Hughes

Obama’s deficit reduction plan will do little but turn out the pockets of South Dakota farmers.

The President’s plan to reduce the deficit will cut farm subsidies by $31 billion over 10 years, and does little but continue benefitting large farms, and preventing aid from reaching small operations.

Reform is needed, not cuts. Farm subsidies have more than enough money but are plagued with distribution problems. So instead of cutting relief programs to small farmers, let us help those who these programs are intended to help. Ten percent of farmers control 75 percent of farm subsidies,and  most of these farmers own massive tracts of land sprawling across multiple counties. About $1.3 billion in farm subsidies are paid to non-farmers who use their “farms” as tax shelters.

The brunt of subsidy abuse comes from the Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), where a landowner (not necessarily a farmer or rancher) enters into an agreement with the Federal Government to use land for something other than farming in exchange for federal payments. This practice is intended to prop commodity prices and help farmers, but the percentages of small farmers who can afford to let significant amounts of land lay fallow are minute.

Other abuses come from a tax code that is riddled with benefits intended for farmers that actually go to tax code manipulators. A non-farmer who purchases productive land may collect CRP payments, deduct office space from often empty buildings on the land, depreciate and rent housing and equipment, and rent out the land to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars in tax savings and payments from Department of Agriculture. Often renters are small farmers who may not be eligible for subsidies.

But a broken federal subsidy program should not be fixed. I agree that all, not part, of federal farm subsidies need to be dropped. Instead, let aid come from states, who will in turn see lighter federal taxation and can accurately determine who should receive aid. The federal government has proven time and again that it cannot allocate funds effectively. Giving the states back their power will save money and help those in need.

The result of federal control is that the farmers and ranchers these subsidies were intended to help are not helped at all, while the small percentage of people who work the system are receiving large portions of the subsidies at South Dakota’s expense. This problem is not unique to farm subsidies nor Obama’s term in office, but under Obama’s presidency we will see another step in the wrong direction during a time when we cannot afford mistakes or waste any more money.