September 12, 2012

New farm bill would aid more Md. farmers, but hurt food stamp recipients

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Maryland farm (By Madbuster75 on Flickr)

Maryland farm (By Madbuster75 on Flickr)

By Sam Smith
Sam@MarylandReporter.com

With the U.S. Farm Bill of 2008 about to expire Sept. 30, advocates from Maryland and across the nation are pressuring Congress to quickly pass the 2012 bill that would end the subsidies for big corporate farms before Congress breaks for the election. But Maryland lawmakers are not confident it will make that deadline.

Both the Senate and the House bills spell the end for Direct Payment subsidies in favor of crop insurance programs. The gridlock stems from disagreement over cuts to the food stamp program, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). After the Senate proposed $4.5 billion in cuts to SNAP, the House Agriculture Committee proposed cutting $16.5 billion that would leave an estimated two to three million Americans without food assistance, according to the progressive Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

Picking tomatoes (By A. Aubrey Bodine, copyright Jennifer B. Bodine.)

Picking tomatoes (By A. Aubrey Bodine, copyright Jennifer B. Bodine.)

The new bill would make more Maryland farms eligible for government assistance, but neither House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer nor U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, both Maryland Democrats, feel the bill will get passed before the break.

Hoyer predicts no vote before election

“It is important that we pass a Farm Bill, which is desperately needed by farmers facing severe drought,” Hoyer said. “I have been urging Republicans to take up and pass the bipartisan Senate version. Unfortunately, they have not scheduled a vote on their bill or the Senate version and it does not appear they will do so before we adjourn in early October.”

The Farm Bill was initially established after the Great Depression to help small-scale farmers, but the modern version has given a competitive advantage to big agricultural corporations that produce commodity crops such as corn and soy. Critics say this leads to the overproduction of these crops and contributes to the production of unhealthy additives like high fructose corn syrup.

“It has really just been skewed towards the major agribusinesses, who have been able to work with all these representatives and special interests to gain gridiron fronts in how these subsidies are distributed,” said Laura Muth of the Maryland Public Interest Group .

Seventy-five percent of the agricultural subsidies went to just 10% of the farming industry according to the Environmental Working Group’s 2012 Farm Subsidy database.

Maryland farmers got little federal aid

Maryland’s top agricultural products are poultry, greenhouse plants and dairy, so many Maryland farms did not benefit from agricultural subsidies. Sixty-four percent of Maryland farmers reported that they did not receive any government subsidy payments according to the 2010 update of the USDA Census of Agriculture. Since 1995, the Farm Bill has funded $277 billion in farming subsidies, however, only $1 billion of that was given to Maryland farms.

Old free-range turkey farm (Photo by A. Aubrey Bodine; copyright Jennifer B. Bodine)

Old free-range turkey farm (Photo by A. Aubrey Bodine; copyright Jennifer B. Bodine)

“Most of the farmers in Maryland that I know welcome a shift to more widely-available crop insurance compared to Direct Payment,” said U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-6th District, who owns a small farm near Frederick. “I share the view of farmers, who prefer that a new Farm Bill will approve safety nets that insure the farmers will not be wiped out as a result of catastrophic losses from extreme weather events determined by county-level assessments or plummeting market prices.”

The prospect of a risk management system would provide subsidies to a wider variety of crops and would make more farmers eligible to receive subsidies, said Valerie Connelly, director of government relations for the Maryland Farm Bureau.

New bill would reach more Md. farmers, Farm Bureau says

“People who were growing fruits and vegetables, the non-traditional crops would have access to straight-up cost insurance, revenue insurance and some of the other risk management products that would be available under the new bill,” Connelly said. “It would reach more farmers and give people a better opportunity to manage their operations and the risks associated with it.”

In a statement when the legislation passed the Senate in June, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski said the 2012 Farm Bill will allow dairy farmers to opt into a protection program for their profit margins at a lower rate. The bill also forces the USDA to look into starting a poultry protection program.

Mikulski also said that $15 million more will be given to crop block grants each year so that the Maryland Department of Agriculture will provide more support to a wider range of producers and invest more towards research, education, pest control and food safety.

“Senator Cardin supports improving the safety net for poultry growers and dairy farmers.  Improvements to the dairy program in the farm bill will provide significant help to dairy farmers in the Northeast,” said Cardin Communications Director Susan Sullam.

Proposed cut for Food Stamps

Currently, about 700,000 people in Maryland rely on the SNAP program to buy food. The cuts would come from the elimination of the “categorical eligibility” component of the program. This will make it more difficult for people to be considered eligible to receive food stamp assistance even though they are technically living under the poverty line. This will also affect how many children will be eligible for school lunch assistance.

Hoyer called food stamps and unemployment  insurance the two “most  stimulative” ways of helping the economy.

“I oppose the deep cuts to food assistance proposed in the House Republicans’ Farm Bill,” Hoyer said.

Cardin is also firmly against the proposed cuts. “At a time when so many American families are struggling because of the economy, Senator Cardin does not support reducing federal funds to the food stamp program, which helps families put food on their tables,” Sullam said.

  • poop

    baltimore the city that gets you back and maryland makes you moan with the same old lie like a rug self indulgent politics…IRISH EYES ARE LYING…GOD HELP US!

  • abby_adams

    Unemployment checks & food stamps the MOST stimulative ways to help our economy while we still borrow 40 cents out of every dollar we spend? It makes no common sense, then again I maybe expecting too much. 🙂

    • Abby,
      You are expecting too much from these Democrat “creatures” and the morons who vote for them…

    • Dukehoopsfan

      Sadly, if you are expecting MD politicians to do the right thing, you were expecting too much.

  • It is time to end the food stamp fraud that has permeated the current administration. It is time to end supporting illegal aliens and indolents especially with money we don’t have.

  • Parrotisla

    Oh yeah Entitlement programs that take my money and give it to someone else stimulates the economy. If I still had that money I could spend it on other things which would in turn create jobs which in turn would allow those poeple to buy things and pay taxes which would allow more people to find jobs and spend money. The other way around does not work.

  • Cindy Walsh

    We all know the new farm bill simply moved one subsidy to another even greater subsidy……crop insurance. So, your description that this bill ended subsidy is curious. This farm bill takes the midwest, the place everybody knows will become a dust bowl with global warming and which everyone knows is nothing but a bunch of corporate agri-businesses doing much of there business globally, and gives them 100% crop insurance against crop failure at taxpayer expense. This is about as bad a bill for taxpayers as you can get.

    Farmers already have derivative markets to insure their businesses, they have FEMA that comes to their aid. Last year we heard of farmers having disaster relief that made a 5% profit after all the subsidies. This year we hear of farmers planting extra crops in the spring knowing the drought would kill them.

    Your Democratic politicians need to answer why were Food Stamps connected to the Farm Bill when you knew we needed to end subsidies? Democrats had a super-majority that allowed them to position Food Stamps with Health and Human Services were it belongs. They left it there simply as a reason to extend these farm subsidies!