by Caroline Porter
The New York Times printed on March 1, ''The site revealed that nearly 60 percent of farm subsidies go to the largest 10 percent of growers--often encouraging big farms to overplant crops and receive more subsidies. Overplanting results in more surpluses, and this in turn squeezes smaller-yield family farms. It also leads to more topsoil destruction.''
It is thought that the website, which lists federal subsidies sent to every farm in America (and many non-farm entities,) actually affected the passage of amendments to the Senate Farm Bill which would cap annual subsidies at $270,000 per farm, which would be a big blow to big industrial operations. Of course, landowners have bypassed limitations for years by simply dividing up farms into smaller entities, usually in the names of individual family members.
But the Illinois Stewardship Alliance is excited about the Conservation Security Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) included in the Senate version of this year's farm bill. The Senate Ag Committee included a full-scale, 10 year conservation program in the bill and stewardship incentives have been approved by a Congressional Committee and the Senate for the first time in history.
The Conservation Security Program would provide incentives for working agricultural lands, bridging a gap between commodity programs and land retirement programs--providing needed family farm support and enhanced environmental protection. It is available to all farmers. It allows farmers and ranchers to integrate new and existing conservaton practices into one comprehensive plan that provides solutions to all resource concerns, including surface and groundwater quality, soil health and nutrient management, air quality, fish and wildlife habitat, wetlands protection, genetic preservation and energy conservation.
In addition, on the Senate floor an amendment was defeated that would have given the corporate dominated USDA authority to review all proposed agency environmental and public health actions related to agriculture.
The (Senator) Wellstone EQIP amendment passed providing a positive policy direction for the program while insuring greater environmental benefits, such as a requirement that all livestock producers receiving program funds for structural practices related to animal waste develop a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan. The amendment also stipulates a payment cap of $30,000 per year and a minimum contract of three years.
The Stewardship Alliance reports that the 2002 Farm Bill is now in the hands of a House Senate Conference Committee and that corporate agriculture and agribusiness will attempt to strip the benefits for family farmers and the environment won in the Senate version. Their position will probably be to put the money available for the Conservation Security Program into a bloated EQIP program that would amount to nothing more than a subsidy for mega-livestock factories.
Anyone wondering why farmers need to become more aware of their effect on the environment might consider that farm run-off of nitrogen fertilizer has been tabbed the chief contributor of a growing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that may now exceed 8,000 square miles, according to the Prairie Rivers Network based in Champaign. The oxygen-poor zone, says the organization, comes from 1.6 million metric tons of nitrogen dumped into the gulf, carried by U..S. rivers and streams, much of it coming from Midwest farm fields. Not only are problems appearing in the gulf, said the group's executive director, but a lot of Illinois towns along the rivers have invested millions of dollars to remove pollution they didn't produce.
It is now being found that farmer's have generally used more nitrogen per acre than needed and its effects can be blunted by time of year and temperature of application. Well-positioned buffers and filter strips can also be planted by the farmer.
No one is interested in harming the basic and necessary business of farming. But when it is so impacted, perhaps negatively, by huge amounts of our taxpayer dollars, we all have a right and obligation to scrutinize and discuss government farm programs.
Caroline Porter is a freelance writer from Galesburg who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org