Thursday, April 14, 2005

Saxby Chambliss gets his way

When Bush proposed steep cuts in agricultural spending for the 2006 budget earlier this year, targeting both commodity subsidies and conservation programs, industrial-agriculture interests and sustainable-ag proponents alike organized in protest.

It's no surprise which side won the day.

Bush's beleaguered ag scretary, Mike Johanns, announced April 12 that large-scale commodity farmers could rest easy: the 2006 budget will maintain them in the style to which they've grown accustomed.

Sustainable-ag schemes will not be so lucky.

The above-linked Associated Press story reports that the orginal cuts proposed by Bush would have totalled $8 billion over 10 years. The House's proposed budget would slash Agriculture Department spending by $5.3 billion in 2006, while the Senate's would slice off $2.8 billion.

"If cuts don’t come from payments to [commodity] farmers, they still must come from somewhere," AP writes. And it goes on to state that the likely targets will be conservation and food-stamp programs.

One program on the chopping block is the Conservation Security Program (CSP), described by the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture as an "an innovative federal program that provides financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers nationwide to help them implement sound conservation practices that improve soil, water, and ecosystem health."

The program essentially gives farmers an immediate financial incentive to break away from environmentally ruinous chemical inputs and begin treating their farms as living ecosystems. Rather than reward gross output, as do the commodity supports so dear to industrial-ag interests, these payments reward farmers for how they farm.

And also unlike commodity supports, which explicitly push farmers to scale up to grab more largesse, this program is structurally geared to human-scale farming. In its fact sheet on the Conservation Security Program, the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture points out that:

Several key rules of the CSP stipulate that eligible land must be privately owned, that an eligible applicant must have an active interest in the agricultural operation, and that an applicant must have control of the land for the life of the CSP contract. This discourages the kinds of land erosion and water pollution that can result from short-term land leases while encouraging the farmer's stake in his own land.


The 2002 Farm Bill, the Campaign reports, stipulates that the program should receive $649 million in 2006. To put that number in perspective, note that the U.S. government spent $2.8 billion subsidizing commodity corn farmers in 2003 alone.

But even $649 million is too much for a program that doesn't play into the hands of agribusiness. The National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture reports that Bush's proposed 2006 budget would slash the program's funding to just $375 million. Now that Bush has yanked commodity supports off of the chopping block, you can count on even steeper cuts in that program.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R. Ga., Senate Agriculture Committee chair and champion of Georgia's fat and happy cotton farmers, has already been rubbing his paws together at the prospect of chopping the USDA's food-stamp program as a way of preserving the government's generosity to vast-scale farming enterprises.

A blog less cynical about national-level electoral politics might print that lout’s address and urge you to harangue him. This one will merely urge you to plant a garden and spend as much of your food budget as possible buying directly from small farmers.

10 Comments:

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