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by Your paying for my BMW - thanks!!!
Monday, Jul. 03, 2006 at 6:49 PM
How can a farmer afford his BMW if the feds don't give him corporate welfare.
isnt corporate welfare great!!!!!!!
Land yields federal payments, with or without crops
Program intended to wean farmers off subsidies has become bit money-maker for landowners
By Dan Morgan, Gilbert M. Gaul, Sarah Cohen
THE WASHINGTON POST
Sunday, July 02, 2006
EL CAMPO — Even though Donald Matthews put his sprawling new residence in the heart of rice country, he is no farmer. He is a 67-year-old asphalt contractor who wanted to build a dream house for his wife of 40 years.
Yet, under a federal agriculture program approved by Congress, his 18-acre suburban lot receives about ,300 in annual "direct payments" because years ago the land was used to grow rice.
Matthews is not alone. Nationwide, the federal government has paid at least .3 billion in subsidies for rice and other crops since 2000 to people who do no farming, according to an analysis of government records by The Washington Post.
Some of them collect hundreds of thousands of dollars without planting a seed. Mary Anna Hudson, 87, from the River Oaks neighborhood in Houston, has received 1,000 over the past decade. Houston surgeon Jimmy Frank Howell has received 0,709.
"I don't agree with the government's policy," said Matthews, who wanted to give the money back but was told that it would go to other landowners. "They give all of this money to landowners who don't even farm while real farmers can't afford to get started. It's wrong."
The checks to Matthews and others were intended 10 years ago to be a first step toward eliminating costly, decades-old farm subsidies. Instead, the payments have grown into an even larger subsidy that benefits millionaire landowners, foreign speculators and absentee landlords, as well as farmers.
Most of the money goes to farmers who grow crops on their land, but they are under no obligation to grow the crop being subsidized. They can switch to a different one, raise cattle or even grow a stand of timber and still get the government payments.
The cash comes with so few restrictions that subdivision developers who buy farmland advertise that homeowners can collect farm subsidies on their new backyards.
The payments now account for almost half of the nation's expanding agricultural subsidy system, a complex web that has little basis in fairness or efficiency. What began in the 1930s as a limited safety net for working farmers has swollen into a far-flung infrastructure of entitlements that has cost 2 billion over the past decade.
In 2005 alone, when pretax farm profits were at a near-record billion, the federal government handed out more than billion in aid, almost 50 percent more than the amount it pays to families receiving welfare.
The Washington Post's nine-month investigation found farm subsidy programs that have become so all-encompassing and generous that they have taken much of the risk out of farming for the increasingly wealthy individuals who dominate it.
The farm payments have also altered the landscape and culture of the Farm Belt, pushing up land prices and favoring large, wealthy operators.
"We're simply administering it the way Congress established," said John Johnson, a top official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Today, even key farm-state figures think that the direct-payment program needs an overhaul.
"This was an unintended consequence of the farm bill," said former U.S. Rep. Charles Stenholm, a West Texas Democrat who was once the ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee. "Instead of maintaining a rice industry in Texas, we basically contributed to its demise."
The program was the central feature of a 1996 farm law that was meant to be a break from the farm handouts of the past.
Subsidies began when President Franklin Roosevelt's administration stepped forward to support millions of Depression-era farmers being hurt by low prices.
By the early 1990s, U.S. agriculture was a productive marvel, but it was still mired in government controls and awash in complex subsidies.
When Republicans took control of Congress in 1995, they promoted the idea that farmers should be allowed to grow crops without restrictions, standing or falling on their own. The result was the 1996 bill, which the Republicans called Freedom to Farm.
The goal was to remove government limits on planting and phase out subsidies. But GOP leaders had to make a trade to get the votes: They offered farmers annual fixed cash payments as a way of weaning them off subsidies.
The new payments were calculated on a farm's "base acres," or production dating back to 1981. The amount per acre varied depending on past production.
Supporters said these annual payments gave farmers the flexibility to switch from one crop to another as market conditions changed or even to sit it out in a year of low prices.
In addition, the payments fit with international trade rules that frown on traditional price supports.
The annual payments were dubbed "transitional" and were supposed to decline over seven years. But two years later, farm prices fell sharply, and the Republican-led Congress gave in to the farm lobby.
Instead of cutting, Congress ended up expanding the program. A program intended to cost billion over seven years instead topped billion.
Efforts to overhaul the farm subsidy network have been thwarted by powerful farm-state lawmakers in Congress who are allied with agricultural interests.
Nowhere is the impact more evident than in the sunbaked Texas rice country that spreads southwest from Houston to the Colorado River and east to the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1981, the Texas rice belt was made up of about 600,000 acres. By last year, USDA records show, the amount of planted rice had shrunk to 202,000 acres, partly because landowners were able to get farm payments even if no rice was grown on their land.
Among the most fervent critics of the annual payments are hundreds of Texas farmers who rent land on which they grow rice.
Under the rules, tenants receive the money if they operate the farms. But landlords can simply increase rents to capture those payments.
Other landlords have evicted the tenants from land that they had farmed for years. Then the landowners can collect the checks themselves, even if they do not farm.
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