2000s Archive

Betting the Farm

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He is also prepared to use a stick. “If farmers want to plow native prairie, they should not be in the program. If they want to grow single-crop monocultures without rotation and play the commodity market, that’s their right, but the government should not pay for it. If they pollute, charge them to clean it up. Don’t use public money to pay large hog-confinement operations to build expensive waste ponds. That should be part of the cost of doing business.”

The tenets of multifunctionality are already at work in Europe. The United King­dom has folded the services of its old agriculture ministry into a new Department of the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs. But don’t expect a breakthrough soon in the United States.

While this year’s Farm Bill winds its way through the Conference Committee, grain processors, cattle feeders, and the ethanol industry still control the debate in Washington, and they all profit from overproduction. Prices are high today, but the more farmers expand production to meet the opportunity, the more prices will fall tomorrow. So raw-commodity prices stay low over the long term, and tax­payers pick up the tab to keep struggling farmers afloat from one harvest to the next. And President Bush’s veto threat still lurks if Harkin or other reformers try to add new money to the Farm Bill to pay for multifunctional reforms.

This winter, times are good, and few of Matthew Stiegelmeier’s neighbors have any interest in going organic or making big changes in farm policy. Times are so good, in fact, that you can almost hear the farmers along the edge, the ones gathered at the Cloverleaf, complaining that next year will surely be a disaster.

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