The USDA Loves Subsidies: Do Small Farms Deserve Help Too?
Gene Logsdon, my unspoken mentor (so unspoken that he, in fact, doesn’t know), recently posted an article pointing to small farming as one answer to the jobs crisis in the US. If the government would get out of the way of small farms, Logsdon says, we’d all be in a much better spot.
As of now, America’s farms leave room for few employees, and even fewer career seekers. There is one farmer for every 155 of us, and current farm technology allows for a farmer to grow 5,000 acres of corn with one employee. On top of that, the farmer will be subsidized heavily by the USDA for doing so. But the way Logsdon figures it, if one 5,000 acre farm were divided into smaller farms of 300 acres, each run by a family farmer with three employees, these farms could be employing close to 100 people. And they would be polluting less and supplying their communities with better food. Multiply that out to the total amount of corn grown in the country this year–90 million acres–and you’re talking about a million new jobs:
All government really has to do is provide a level playing field where small intensive farming can compete fairly with large, heavily-subsidized, industrial farming and then stand back. A revolution will take place in new job creation and it will be in the right direction: more good food and a more stable society at a lesser overall cost.
Logsdon’s post begged the question, what would a level playing field for large commodity farms and small farms look like? Given current rates of subsidy, the farmer growing 5,000 acres of corn has the potential to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars from the government. Could the USDA eliminate these subsidies and then stand back and let small farms and large farms compete in a fair market? Given that corn and soy are the foundation of our food system, good or bad, would removing subsidies result in more loss than gain?
Regardless of subsidies, the Organic Farming Research Foundation thinks the government owes small farms more than that. It recently released this report for steps the federal government can take to actively support small organic farms, which include an organic farm transition program (though they fail to mention new farmer education).
So what should the government’s role in recreating the food system be? Should it just get out of the way, or try to fix the problems it has helped create? To me, it seems that America has deliberately been destroying its farming industry for the last half century. And if we are serious about reconsidering how American farming does business, it will take significant effort to piece it back together.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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