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-   -   What is the justification for farm subsidies? (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=868339)

SamuelA 01-03-2019 09:55 PM

What is the justification for farm subsidies?
 
Other than corruption, essentially a bribe to the Senators of states that have a low population and a large farm lobby, how does "subsidizing" farms help anyone? (but the tiny percentage of the population who happen to be receiving the money) As I understand, there's all sorts of price controls and artificial subsidies.

Aren't markets supposed to be efficient? Wouldn't having farming done by large, efficient farming corporations, so long as they didn't grow so large to be a monopoly, produce the lowest cost crops? And wouldn't allowing the prices to fluctuate with supply and demand produce the best balance of production vs consumption?

I mean, sure, this might mean that the price of milk or cornflakes would oscillate, but the average price would be lower. And the government would save money overall on it's various food stamp and snap programs - though I suppose that oscillating prices would make this kind of program harder to run because the budget needed to give families for a given "basket" of goods would rise and fall.

Isosleepy 01-03-2019 11:36 PM

I believe the primary function is buying votes. That said, I know I feel more comfortable in a country ( and for that matter, state and county) that is a net surplus producer of food. If the shit ever hits the fan on global trade, (war, SARS, Venezuela-type clusterfuck, stuff I can’t even think of) we at least are less likely to starve. I believe likelyhood of such is very low, but I still feel better. So I don’t mind at least some level of subsidy. But when it changes the fuel I have to use just so we grow more ethanol corn, it probably has metastasized beyond useful scope.

Chimera 01-03-2019 11:45 PM

Farm subsidies keep prices relatively stable and farmers in business through both good and bad years, ensuring that we continue to be the largest producer of food on the planet.

ThisSpaceForRent 01-04-2019 12:24 AM

i was walking down the road on day... I met a farmer with a very cured bill on his hat looking into his mailbox...

i asked him..."why is your bill on your hat so curved?"....

His reply...... "I was looking for my government check!!!"

...

penultima thule 01-04-2019 12:27 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chimera (Post 21410910)
Farm subsidies keep prices relatively stable and farmers in business through both good and bad years, ensuring that we continue to be the largest producer of food on the planet.

Well as the US doesn't and possibly has never held that crown (China produces more food, Indian produces more calories, sometimes more food) does that mean you are open to re-evaluation?

The US certainly dominates food exports so it's your tax dollars are going into the pockets of Big Agribusiness so they can export cheap food in volume which keeps your international customers poor and less able to buy your industrial production which is where the bulk of the US employment is.

Riemann 01-04-2019 01:37 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chimera (Post 21410910)
Farm subsidies keep prices relatively stable and farmers in business through both good and bad years, ensuring that we continue to be the largest producer of food on the planet.

It's not about smoothing temporary fluctuations, subsidies have been growing steadily for decades. It's a structural requirement for some types of farming that would never otherwise be profitable.

You seem to think it's self evident that it's desirable to be a massive food producer. That may be so, but I think it requires some justification. In many types of farming we have no comparative advantage. And worse than that, some arid areas that are farmed are so unsuitable that irrigation is depleting water supplies catastrophically.

Urbanredneck 01-04-2019 03:41 AM

Arent they worse in other countries like Europe where subsidies keep all those small and quaint farms people want to see in the French countryside in business?

And thats not really a bad thing. Farming where you must rely purely on market forces, is one of the most difficult areas to make a living in.

I know small towns, surrounded by farms where nobody in the town actually owns or works on the farms. They are all owned by the same corporation. All the work is contracted.

penultima thule 01-04-2019 04:14 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Urbanredneck (Post 21411032)
Farming where you must rely purely on market forces, is one of the most difficult areas to make a living in.

Conversely, when relying on market distorting subsidies, the living comes easier.
Indeed it comes in the form of a regular cheque.

Crafter_Man 01-04-2019 05:32 AM

In addition,

1) Small, family-operated farms are considered an American institution, and subsidies help preserve them.

2) Ethanol.

Jonathan Chance 01-04-2019 05:52 AM

So's mom and pop retail stores. That doesn't keep us from providing Wal-Mart with tax supports and incentives.

Let's face it, here. All the iconography in the world doesn't mask the fact that it's one more set aside for the powerful.

monstro 01-04-2019 06:42 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Crafter_Man (Post 21411078)
In addition,

1) Small, family-operated farms are considered an American institution, and subsidies help preserve them.

Almost all subsidies go to millionaires and multimillionares. Interestingly enough, this Heritage Foundation study found that most farms do not receive subsidies. Only one-fifth of commodity payments went to small farms in 2014. The rest went to mid-scale and large-scale operations. The subsidies aren't miraculously trickling down to the small farms these companies contract with. Care to back up your claim that subsidies are preserving small, family-operated farms?

Quote:

2) Ethanol.
What percentage of American cropland is used for ethanol production? And how many farmers are generating renewable energy out of the total number that receive subsidies?

Dinsdale 01-04-2019 07:31 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by monstro (Post 21411102)
... Care to back up your claim that subsidies are preserving small, family-operated farms?

To be fair, his post was somewhat limited, saying only that "subsidies help preserve [small family-operated farms]." He didn't say that that was the primary - or even a main - effect. I think it extremely likely that there are some number of small, independent farms that would not be able to continue without some form of subsidy. But the inescapable reality is that the vast majority of farm subsidies are welfare for industry and the wealthy.

Hell, we produce way too much corn as it is. So we have to figure out how to allow agribusiness to turn a profit from it - damning the environmental and health consequences - from beef feedlots, to feeding it to salmon, to wasting fresh water to produce ethanol... Someone want to explain to me how the guy driving the tractor profits from this system - as opposed to ADM, Cargill...?

Dewey Finn 01-04-2019 07:48 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Isosleepy (Post 21410900)
I believe the primary function is buying votes.

In particular, the fact that the Iowa caucuses are one of the first opportunities for primary candidates to distinguish themselves is probably responsible for much agricultural policy. If, say, Utah held early primaries, would we have subsidies for ski resorts?

Stranger On A Train 01-04-2019 07:52 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Crafter_Man (Post 21411078)
1) Small, family-operated farms are considered an American institution, and subsidies help preserve them.

2) Ethanol.

The time to help ďsmall, family-operated farmsĒ would have been back in the Reagan era, when the government turned its back to both them and the exploitation by S&Ls which later collapsed. Protecting small farming operations from insolvency would have meanted strengthening regulations in an era when the industry was being deregulated and bankruptcy were being weakened ,causing many farmers to lose farms that had been worked for generations and leave farming. As others have noted, subsidies actually benefit the large corporate interests who buy politicians who support and protect them, and while there is a valid motive in ensuring stable food costs many subsidies simply assure overproduction of perishable gods that benefit no one except the people who profit from them.

There is neither a fiscal or practical reason to susbsidized corn production as feedstock for ethanol manufacture. Ethanol is not a particularly good fuel in any practical sense, and will never be a mass replacement for petrofuels. As an addative to gasoline, ethanol reduces fuel economy and has a questionable impact on exhaust pollution while doing nothing to actually affect the costs of fuel or provide a path to sustainable transportation energy.

Stranger

naita 01-04-2019 08:01 AM

Farm subsidies mean consumers pay less of the cost of US produced food directly. Remove the subsidies and the consumer have to pay more of the production costs, and food produced in other countries becomes comparably cheaper.

I'm not saying it is not inefficient, or that there aren't many elements that are special interest siphons lobbied into existence, but at least in part it is a global phenomenon justified by the national security issue of maintaining stable food production and the "trade fairness" issue of limiting foreign imports of, also subsidized, food.

senoy 01-04-2019 08:06 AM

Farm subsidies serve two purposes. They keep the price of food artificially low. Since taxation is progressive and food pricing is relatively proportional, this benefits low-income consumers. They also ensure that developed countries actually have agricultural industries. We know what globalization does, it tends to push production to wherever labor is able to do the job cheaply (There are productivity issues at play as well based on their ability to afford machinery, but it's fair to say that multinational ag companies would pay for machines if they can get cheap labor.) Since agriculture is pretty much able to be done anywhere, that means that low labor countries have an extreme competitive advantage in agricultural production. Honestly, very little agricultural work should be taking place in the first world under a frictionless economic model. That though leads to countries being in a position where they rely upon food imports to exist and that means that they are able to be held hostage to those food imports. For instance, right now, China is reliant upon soy bean imports. It will have a serious collapse of its animal food industry without them. Last year, it had basically two suppliers, the US and Brazil. Right now, it's in a pretty serious trade dispute with the US as you should know. This means that it is 100% completely reliant on Brazilian soy beans. It HAS to have them. This gives Brazil an incredible amount of leverage over China. Leverage that China probably wishes Brazil didn't have. Will Brazil take advantage of that? Who knows? I doubt it. It's probably just enjoying the higher value that its soy beans command and sees no reason to anger China, but it still puts China in a tough position.

Subsidies ensure that domestic production still exists and gives you leverage in trade wars. The fact that pretty much every developed country (and most developing countries) use agricultural subsidies regardless of their place on the political spectrum speaks to their usefulness.

Dewey Finn 01-04-2019 08:44 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Crafter_Man (Post 21411078)
1) Small, family-operated farms are considered an American institution, and subsidies help preserve them.

So pick a small, family-operated family farm in each state or each region in a state and operate it as some sort of historical site. That would be cheaper than romantic nonsense about the value of small family farms.
Quote:

Originally Posted by senoy (Post 21411208)
Farm subsidies serve two purposes. They keep the price of food artificially low. Since taxation is progressive and food pricing is relatively proportional, this benefits low-income consumers.

And if that's the goal, subsidize the low-income consumer at the purchasing end. That would be a far more efficient way to benefit the low-income consumer.

ioioio 01-04-2019 08:45 AM

Iím too lazy to do research right now, so what I say is based on what I think I know and what I remember being told; it may not be completely accurate.

For three generations, my family has received subsidies through the FSAís Conservation Reserve Program for not growing crops on a piece of land we own in southwest Kansas.

Before this area was settled, the land was covered with prairie grass, which held the incredibly dry, fine soil in place. Settlers removed the prairie grass in an attempt to grow crops. The result was the Dust Bowl -- an economic, environmental, and human disaster.

The governmentís response was to start paying land owners (usually poor farmers) to restore their land to prairie grass.

A close family member receives our annual payment, although none of us has been anywhere near the land for decades. Some distant relatives maintain the land as required and receive half the money, which is a couple of thousand dollars annually. Several families with nearby property receive millions of dollars annually.

A while back, there was a possibility that the Conservation Reserve Program would not be renewed and subsidies would end. Of course, this caused a furor.

The issue of subsidies is complicated. Itís not always just a matter of greed and malfeasance.

CelticKnot 01-04-2019 08:56 AM

The farmers I know (small family farms) would rather just be left alone. They would prefer a small government that doesn't have tentacles in every aspect of their lives than subsidies.

If the government wants to help the poor by subsidizing food producers, they should subsidize food that is actually healthy. There's a reason sugars and grains are so much cheaper than fruits and vegetables.

scr4 01-04-2019 09:18 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by CelticKnot (Post 21411313)
The farmers I know (small family farms) would rather just be left alone. They would prefer a small government that doesn't have tentacles in every aspect of their lives than subsidies.

So they do want the subsidies, they just don't want any regulations?

Duh...

Hari Seldon 01-04-2019 09:30 AM

The agricultural states are wildly over-represented in the senate and the electoral college. This is one result. This is baked into the constitution and the senate cannot be changed even by constitutional amendment.

CelticKnot 01-04-2019 09:43 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by scr4 (Post 21411356)
So they do want the subsidies, they just don't want any regulations?

Duh...

Neither. They want to be left alone to make a living.

Dewey Finn 01-04-2019 09:59 AM

So have any of these farmers declined to accept subsidies?

carnivorousplant 01-04-2019 10:48 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by senoy (Post 21411208)
For instance, right now, China is reliant upon soy bean imports. It will have a serious collapse of its animal food industry without them. Last year, it had basically two suppliers, the US and Brazil. Right now, it's in a pretty serious trade dispute with the US as you should know. This means that it is 100% completely reliant on Brazilian soy beans.

I thought they were also buying soybeans from India.

carnivorousplant 01-04-2019 10:50 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Stranger On A Train (Post 21411181)
As an addative to gasoline, ethanol reduces fuel economy and has a questionable impact on exhaust pollution while doing nothing to actually affect the costs of fuel or provide a path to sustainable transportation energy.

Stranger

Still, less gasoline is used by burning ethanol, is it not?

CelticKnot 01-04-2019 11:07 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dewey Finn (Post 21411437)
So have any of these farmers declined to accept subsidies?

I don't know. It was never brought up.

CelticKnot 01-04-2019 11:08 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by carnivorousplant (Post 21411564)
Still, less gasoline is used by burning ethanol, is it not?

But more energy (guess where it comes from) is used to make the ethanol.

BeenJammin 01-04-2019 11:13 AM

Farming could be a bigger piece of the upcoming global environmental disaster than carbon-based energy. There must be some limit to the ongoing expansion of industrialized farming. But as long as there is profit to be had feeding half the planet off 10% of the arable and even some of the non-arable land, greedy businessmen (not farmers) will stay on course.

Filbert 01-04-2019 11:21 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by carnivorousplant (Post 21411564)
Still, less gasoline is used by burning ethanol, is it not?

Probably not. Attempts to actually measure end to end fossil fuel input of producing biofuels, taking into account growing and processing, have found that all biofuels currently produced use more fossil fuel in their production than they actually replace.

Theoretically, biofuel made from algae could be viable, but it's never been achieved on a meaningful scale.

senoy 01-04-2019 12:46 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by carnivorousplant (Post 21411558)
I thought they were also buying soybeans from India.

They are buying soybeans from all over the world. The two main exporters to China though are the US at about 35 million tonnes and Brazil at 50 million tonnes. China imports about 100 million tonnes a year, so roughly 1/2 from Brazil, 1/3 from the US and 1/6 from everywhere else (largely Argentina and Canada.)

India produces about 10 million tonnes a year, but it typically uses almost all of them and in fact has been a net importer the last few years as crop yields had fallen below 8 million tonnes, although this year is supposed to be a large crop which will take them back to 10, but below their peak of 11.

Regardless, China could slurp up every bean that India produces and still be 25 million tonnes short.

Crafter_Man 01-04-2019 01:43 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by CelticKnot (Post 21411607)
But more energy (guess where it comes from) is used to make the ethanol.

Yep, a lot of diesel fuel is burned in the production of ethanol. And then afterwards we call ethanol a "clean" burning fuel.

Johnny L.A. 01-04-2019 01:49 PM

Heh. I just posted this in another thread:
Major Majorís father was a sober God-fearing man whose idea of a good joke was to lie about his age. He was a longlimbed farmer, a God-fearing, freedom-loving, law-abiding rugged individualist who held that federal aid to anyone but farmers was creeping socialism. He advocated thrift and hard work and disapproved of loose women who turned him down. His specialty was alfalfa, and he made a good thing out of not growing any. The government paid him well for every bushel of alfalfa he did not grow. The more alfalfa he did not grow, the more money the government gave him, and he spent every penny he didnít earn on new land to increase the amount of alfalfa he did not produce. Major Majorís father worked without rest at not growing alfalfa. On long winter evenings he remained indoors and did not mend harness, and he sprang out of bed at the crack of noon every day just to make certain that the chores would not be done. He invested in land wisely and soon was not growing more alfalfa than any other man in the county. Neighbors sought him out for advice on all subjects, for he had made much money and was therefore wise. ďAs ye sow, so shall ye reap,Ē he counseled one and all, and everyone said, ďAmen.Ē

Major Majorís father was an outspoken champion of economy in government, provided it did not interfere with the sacred duty of government to pay farmers as much as they could get for all the alfalfa they produced that no one else wanted or for not producing any alfalfa at all. He was a proud and independent man who was opposed to unemployment insurance and never hesitated to whine, whimper, wheedle and extort for as much as he could get from whomever he could.

Stranger On A Train 01-04-2019 02:09 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by CelticKnot (Post 21411405)
Neither. They want to be left alone to make a living.

Nobody is stopping anyone from sustenance farming, and with modern cultivars and methods it would be trivial to produce enough food and raise animals to feed a large family with a good surplus. The reason family farms arenít competitive is because of the large capital investment and costs of seed for large scale monocropping versus the thin margins that large corporate agribusiness can sustain.

Quote:

Originally Posted by carnivorousplant (Post 21411564)
Still, less gasoline is used by burning ethanol, is it not?

No. Fuel is used to plant, irrigate, fertilize, harvest, transport, and process corn to make ethanol, and the result is energy negative. Even Cuba, which has worked to make biofuel from grain and sugar cane viable following the collapse of the Soviet Union, has found that it is not sustainable. In the US we use E10 and other flexfuel mixtures up to E85 primarily because corn is subsidized and because it provides a modest (and arguable) reduction in exhaust emissions, with the tradeoff being poorer gas mileage (~3% less for E10) because of the lower energy density.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Filbert (Post 21411644)
Theoretically, biofuel made from algae could be viable, but it's never been achieved on a meaningful scale.

Mass production of hydrocarbon fuel from algae is likely a pipe dream because of the low energy density and amount of processing required to extract oils and synthesize fuel is just not scaleable to replace petrofuel production. Algae could potentially support a future glucose energy economy but that will require some fundamental advances in synthetic biology that nobody knows when will happen. Electric vehicles for OTR haulage and personal transportation are becoming more viable for general transportation needs (although weíll still need liquid hydrocarbon fuels for niche applications for the foreseeable future) so there may be some demand for biofuels but methanol and methanol-stock synfuels like dimethylether (DME) which can be produced from waste lignocellulistic feedstock are more sustainable, although there are logistical issues in collecting and processing the feedstock.

Stranger

bump 01-04-2019 02:15 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by senoy (Post 21411208)
Farm subsidies serve two purposes. They keep the price of food artificially low.

Quite the opposite in fact, for some crops. The program that ioioio mentions to pay farmers NOT to grow crops is intended to reduce production and thereby keep prices higher. The theory is that US farmers are productive enough that if they were allowed to grow crops like wheat and corn unfettered, they'd quickly bottom out the commodity prices for those things.

Since commodity prices are a worldwide thing, this would not only hurt American farmers, but also other farmers elsewhere, whose margins are probably smaller to begin with.

Other subsidies are more perplexing- the sugar tariffs (a form of subsidy I suppose) basically outrageously tax imported sugar in favor of domestic sugar. The tariffs mean that the US pays twice, more or less, what the rest of the world does for sugar. What was the market response? Develop high fructose corn syrup and start using that.

Oh, and your notion about no first world agriculture is way off base as well. You're assuming that labor is the primary cost in agricultural production. This probably isn't likely to be the case in the first world.

Beyond that, some areas are just BETTER at growing certain crops than others, and a lot of those areas are in the first world. Agriculture isn't "pretty much able to be done anywhere"- nobody's going to have success growing citrus in Denmark, and similarly, a commercial barley grower in Ghana would have an uphill battle versus Canadian barley growers. All due to growing conditions, not labor costs or anything like that.

Otherwise, a big piece of it is as you say- to ensure domestic production and give leverage in international affairs.

carnivorousplant 01-04-2019 02:21 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Stranger On A Train (Post 21412041)
No. Fuel is used to plant, irrigate, fertilize, harvest, transport, and process corn to make ethanol, and the result is energy negative. Even Cuba, which has worked to make biofuel from grain and sugar cane viable following the collapse of the Soviet Union, has found that it is not sustainable. In the US we use E10 and other flexfuel mixtures up to E85 primarily because corn is subsidized and because it provides a modest (and arguable) reduction in exhaust emissions, with the tradeoff being poorer gas mileage (~3% less for E10) because of the lower energy density.
Stranger

Fuel used to produce something adds to the cost. What is the financial incentive for Shell to add ethanol to their gasoline?

Asimovian 01-04-2019 02:33 PM

Moderator Note

Let's try this in Great Debates. Relocated from IMHO.

griffin1977 01-04-2019 03:08 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chimera (Post 21410910)
Farm subsidies keep prices relatively stable and farmers in business through both good and bad years, ensuring that we continue to be the largest producer of food on the planet.

This is the answer to the OP.

You don't want your people to starve. There are huge variations in agricultural output, based on the weather, etc. Left entirely up to the free market, farmers would go out of business during the glut years, and the free market can't react in time during the lean years. People would actually starve. Good luck selling your libertarian free market philosophy when there are grain riots at your front door.

That is the basic motivation behind all the agricultural subsidies the world over. The exact details of their implementation varies by country, hence the differing nature farming in different parts of the world.

One thing to note is that the US and UK had vaguely similar approaches that encouraged industrialization of agriculture (the UK particularly were motivated by nearly starving to death during WW2 during the battle of the Atlantic). The end result is the number of people actually involved in farming goes way down, in the UK this meant the farming lobby became much less powerful. It didn't in the US as those few people involved in it were concentrated in a few states, so thanks to the vagaries US legislative government, are still very powerful.

Ruken 01-04-2019 03:34 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by carnivorousplant (Post 21412063)
Fuel used to produce something adds to the cost. What is the financial incentive for Shell to add ethanol to their gasoline?

Government mandates.

Ruken 01-04-2019 03:36 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by monstro (Post 21411102)
What percentage of American cropland is used for ethanol production? And how many farmers are generating renewable energy out of the total number that receive subsidies?

Let us know what you find out.

Chronos 01-04-2019 03:43 PM

Quote:

Quoth carnivorousplant:

Fuel used to produce something adds to the cost. What is the financial incentive for Shell to add ethanol to their gasoline?
Fuel adds to the cost, and government subsidies subtract from the cost. The net effect is that e85 costs Shell less than pure gasoline, even though the total cost is more.

On the other hand, you don't want agriculture regulated purely by market forces, because market forces are slow, especially when applied to agriculture. It takes at least a year for farms to change what they're growing, so that's how long it takes for market forces to react. If something happens to drastically decrease the price of soybeans, say, the long-term solution is to grow less soybeans, but in the short term, you don't want farms going out of business because they can't pay the bills next month.

One form of subsidy is a guaranteed price: The government says that they'll buy as many soybeans as you can grow, at $X per ton. If you can get a better price elsewhere (and hopefully you can, since the government price should be lower than the expected market price), go ahead, but if the market bottoms out, you have a safety net.

Ruken 01-04-2019 04:11 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chronos (Post 21412269)
On the other hand, you don't want agriculture regulated purely by market forces, because market forces are slow, especially when applied to agriculture. It takes at least a year for farms to change what they're growing, so that's how long it takes for market forces to react. If something happens to drastically decrease the price of soybeans, say, the long-term solution is to grow less soybeans, but in the short term, you don't want farms going out of business because they can't pay the bills next month.

It works just fine for the majority of individual crops that are largely unsubsidized. Market options include futures contracts, private insurance, diversification, loans, etc.

Subsidized insurance decreases the net present value of anything a farmer could do to reduce losses. Classic moral hazard.

HMS Irruncible 01-04-2019 04:22 PM

To my knowledge nobody ever rationalizes subsidies except that it's popular to suggest that the US owes a great deal to yeoman farmers, so we should support them through whatever misfortune may befall them at any given point.

We can all guess that's pretty much bullshit, so we can only impute what we think are good rationales.

Charitable: Food production is difficult to ramp up, so it's important to maintain excess capacity in case of a national emergency. (see: strategic oil reserve).

Cynical: The US awards disproportional political representation to land and its owners, so we can expect policies favoring land ownership that would otherwise be unprofitable. Also, the American body politic mistakenly believes that these policies favor the mythical white yeoman farmer, whereas in fact they're exploited by corporations that are only profitable because of subsidies and artificially depressed wages of undocumented people.

My actual take: The US should have excess production of food for national security purposes, and subsidies are appropriate for that, but it's definitely going to the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

Kent Clark 01-04-2019 04:46 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by monstro (Post 21411102)
What percentage of American cropland is used for ethanol production? And how many farmers are generating renewable energy out of the total number that receive subsidies?

30.1% of U.S. corn is used for ethanol. Out of almost 83 million acres of corn harvested in 2017, that would average out to about 25 million acres. There are roughly 349 million acres of cultivated cropland in the U.S.

But when we talk about "farm subsidies" what do we mean? The largest government farm program is crop insurance. Does insurance count as a "subsidy"?

There's also direct disaster aid. Of course, there's disaster aid for areas hit by forest fires, hurricanes, floods, etc. And like crop insurance, it doesn't happen unless there's an actual disaster.

Then there's agricultural research, which doesn't go to farmers at all. But this guy counts it as a $3 billion subsidy.

A lot of people point to the Conservation Reserve Program (about $2 billion) as a boondoggle. But since farmers put their worst land into the program, and the worst land is normally also the most environmentally fragile (mostly because it's either swampy or highly erosive), maybe it isn't a bad thing to encourage leaving it alone.

Together those four programs total somewhere between $13 billion to $18 billion of the roughly $20-$25 billion in agricultural subsidies.

So, carry on the discussion, but let's try to agree on some common numbers.

Dewey Finn 01-04-2019 05:00 PM

FYI, this article from November talks about how the US and other countries mandating the use of vegetable oil in biofuels has led to an environmental disaster in Indonesia, where the rain forests are being cleared so that oil palm trees can be grown in vast quantities. In short, the ethanol mandate was a really bad idea.

Dewey Finn 01-04-2019 05:09 PM

Note that in my previous post I was referring to the island of Borneo.

Broomstick 01-04-2019 05:14 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dewey Finn (Post 21411281)
And if that's the goal, subsidize the low-income consumer at the purchasing end. That would be a far more efficient way to benefit the low-income consumer.

We do. We call that "food stamps" or more properly SNAP.

Except there's a group of folks out there we want to do away with food stamps because poor people don't "deserve" such things. I think food stamps continue to exist largely because they are a form of subsidy to agri-business, which would otherwise see a drop in profits because people without money really would buy less food.

Dewey Finn 01-04-2019 05:30 PM

But as someone pointed out upthread, agricultural subsidies go for things like corn, which is a big reason there's corn or corn oil in all sorts of food. People would be better off and perhaps healthier if we subsidized and encouraged the consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Broomstick 01-04-2019 05:52 PM

You certainly can use your food stamps to buy fruits and vegetables... but those don't get the heavy advertising that frozen dinners and snack food do.

Ruken 01-04-2019 07:37 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Broomstick (Post 21412463)
You certainly can use your food stamps to buy fruits and vegetables... but those don't get the heavy advertising that frozen dinners and snack food do.

You can even use them at the farmers market (at least in NM), which is nice.

penultima thule 01-04-2019 08:19 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by griffin1977 (Post 21412181)
This is the answer to the OP.
You don't want your people to starve.

And how's that strategy working out?

Fattest population on the planet.
The consequence of overindulgence in corn bread, soya fritters, collard greens and mung beans or through the consumption of industrial volumes of HFCS available as BigAg seeks to dispose of the byproduct and end product of subsidised corn -> ethanol?

Quote:

One thing to note is that the US and UK had vaguely similar approaches that encouraged industrialization of agriculture.
Fushsure :smack:
The British Empire didn't get to the extent of covering 1/4 of the planet by exporting foodstuffs.


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