Aid farmers and environment

Aozotorp at Aozotorp at
Thu Oct 4 09:31:47 EDT 2001,1002,417%257E168321,00.html

Aid farmers and environment

Thursday, October 04, 2001 - Ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal 
tried to stabilize farm prices during the Great Depression, laws passed by 
Congress have waged a losing fight against the laws of economics. 

This year, four U.S. representatives - Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y.; Ron Kind, 
D-Wis.; Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md.; and John Dingell, D-Mich. - are trying to 
introduce a note of realism into U.S. farm policy by amending key parts of 
their Working Lands Stewardship Act, HR 2375, into the latest farm bill. 

To understand why the new approach is promising requires a quick look at why 
the old one failed. Low farm prices are caused by an oversupply of farm 
commodities. Seven decades of subsidies haven't cured that problem because - 
by definition - subsidies encourage more production of the very commodities 
that are already in oversupply. 

To be sure, for more than 60 years, the U.S. imposed half-hearted 
restrictions on production of subsidized crops. But a farmer who planted 100 
acres of wheat and later received a 90-acre allotment invariably tore up his 
or her least productive land. Then, that supposedly "idled" land would be 
sown with millet, barley or some other unsubsidized crop - as allowed by the 
subsidy law - and thus go on contributing to the overall surplus of feed 

The 1996 Freedom to Farm Act separated subsidies from production and 
supposedly intended to phase out subsidies entirely in seven years. But the 
Asian currency collapse ruined U.S. export markets, farm prices plunged and 
Congress hurriedly renewed the counterproductive policy of subsidizing 

The Boehlert amendment is designed to help farmers and the environment alike 
by diverting $5.4 billion per year from subsidies to conservation. Instead of 
merely diverting acreage from one crop to another as the discredited 
allotment system did, the Boehlert amendment pays farmers to put more land 
into conservation programs, including: 

The Environmental Quality Incentives program, which helps farmers and 
ranchers preserve watersheds. 

The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, which helps landowners enhance 
wildlife habitat. 

The Wetlands Reserve Program, which protects, preserves and restores wetlands 
on marginal soils. 

The Grassland Reserve Program, which authorizes preservation of 3 million 
acres of fragile grasslands that should not be plowed. 

The Conservation Reserve Program, a long-term cropland retirement program 
that enables producers to convert highly erodible or environmentally 
sensitive cropland to cover crops. 

The environmental benefits of such programs are obvious. The benefit for the 
farmers who receive such payments is equally clear. But even farmers who 
don't participate in such programs also benefit indirectly - because taking 
environmentally fragile farmland out of production also reduces the surpluses 
that keep farm commodity prices at ruinous levels. 

For nearly seven decades, Congress fought the law of supply and demand - and 
the law of supply and demand won. It's high time to stop subsidizing the very 
overproduction that causes the need for subsidies in the first place. 

We urge all members of Colorado's congressional delegation to support the 
Boehlert amendment.

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