Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Saxby Chambliss and family values

Saxby Chambliss, R.-Ga, who serves as chair of the powerful Senate Agriculture Committee, has been a vigorous advocate of agricultural subsidies. When President Bush hinted earlier this year he might have to cut ag subsidies to help offset surging military spending, Chambliss rushed to the rescue. He got Bush to agree to preserve subsidies for high-volume commodities like corn, soybeans, and (particularly dear to Chambliss' Georgia heart) cotton. Any cuts that need to be wrung out of the USDA will come from conservation and poverty programs such as food stamps, not commodity programs.

Bitter Greens Journal does not oppose government support for farming per se, but considers the current subsidy system a farce--a giveaway to huge commodity buyers like Archer Daniels Midland disguised as a gift to family farmers. I've laid out a partial critique of the subsidy system here; I'll return to the topic soon, addressing some thoughtful points in defense of the system raised in a recent issue of Albert Krebs' Agribusiness Examiner.

For now, let's just say that it's no surprise that Sen. Chambliss, whom I have already taken to task here and here, is such a popular beneficiary of big-ag cash.

But his rock-solid support for commodity subsidies may also have a familial angle. I learned from this interview that Sen. Chambliss' son-in-law is one Joe Baker, owner of Baker Farms in Norman Park, Ga., and boardmember of the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association.

According to the Environmental Working Group's invaluable Farm Subsidy Database, Baker Farmsgot about $171,000 in federal subsidies between 1995 and 2003, the great bulk of them from the controversial cotton program.

Now, in the grand scheme, $170k isn't so very much. By comparison, Georgia's top-20 most-subsidized farms all received in excess of $2 million over the same period.

Still, comparing Baker Farms' annual take with that of the state of Georgia as a whole yields an interesting trend: Baker Farms' percentage share of its state's total subsidy allotment increases consistently over the period.

And that period--1995 to 2003--roughly coincides with Chambliss' ascent from member of the U.S. House (where he was first elected in 1994) to his entry into the Senate (2002).

Looks like Baker grew savvier about how to "farm the government" (as the practice is known in the trade) as his daddy-in-law scaled the heights on the shoulders of big-ag cash.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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9/07/2005 12:16:00 AM  
Blogger Kievsky said...

anyone willing to do low input farming (with broadfork and spade and hands and knees) should be provided land (albeit he can't sell this land) and deferred from paying any taxes. That's the subsidy -- simply remove the expenses and provide them the land to do it.

I am surprised at how most people wrinkle their noses at low input farming and at dealing with horse manure. There's nothing dirty about it, and it's not "drudgery" at least not to me. but since others find it to be such "low caste" work, then those willing to do this essential labor should be GIVEN 5 acres and total tax deferments. We'll pay our bills with jobs in town, and farm in our free time.

by the way, Wendell Berry's got an article over at Oriononline.com


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