American farmers were delivered grim news this week as President Obama revealed his deficit reduction proposal, "Living Within Our Means and Investing in the Future," which includes reforms for agriculture subsidies and direct payments to farmers estimated to save American taxpayers some $33 billion annually.
Citing recent record crop yields and prices, the plan claims that taxpayers no longer need to continue to "foot the bill" for American farmers. Direct payments go to farmers who have planted Government supported crops at some point in time, whether currently in their rotation or not; and more than 50 percent of those payments go to farmers earning more than $100,000 annually, according to the administration's plan. "In a period of severe fiscal restraint, these payments are no longer defensible."
2011 farm income is estimated to reach $103.6 billion, up nearly $25 billion (31 percent) over 2010; with the top five record setting farm earnings for the past thirty years occurring just since 2004.
Despite the administration's confidence in American farming, many continue to struggle. An August 2011 post on Farm Plus Financial's website says that, "In the wake of what some farmers have called the Great Dairy Recession, many dairy farmers across the United States are still struggling to make ends meet." And according to a New York Times article published in June 2011, "The subsidy database maintained by the Environmental Working Group shows 62 percent of farmers receive no payments. Since 1995, just 10 percent of farmers have gotten 74 percent of all subsidies, the data shows."
In fact, small farmers continue to struggle against the force of industrial farming, which can sell more, faster and cheaper, edging out smaller farms from the marketplace. And proposed new regulations on leafy green vegetables designed to protect consumers from contamination like the 2006 spinach e coli outbreak appear to make things even more difficult for the small American farmer, according to Jack Kittredge, executive director for NOFA Massachusetts (Northeast Organic Farming Association), who told consumer advocacy group, the Cornucopia Institute, that small farms need different standards than industrial farmers, otherwise, “It’s one more nail in the coffin of small-scale agriculture."
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