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How To Ruin Organic Farming

This is supposed to be good news. Our dear government has finally recognized that organic farmers are at least as deserving of bribery as all those sinful chemical farmers. After all, industrial agriculture gets $17.2 billion dollars in direct payments every year so surely a little bit of money ought also to go to holy, humble, horse and hoe husbandmen who also help keep the world from starvation. In fact, organic farmers now have their very own farm subsidy program under the Environmental Quality Incentive Program to the tune of $50 million bucks. Ain’t that wonderful?

I will go as far out on the end of my bucket loader as I can and bet even money that this is the beginning of the end of organic farming. Government learned a long time ago that farmers, like everyone else, can be persuaded to do what the government wants done by handing out money. The result? Since government subsidy programs got serious about 70 years ago, the number of commercial farmers has plummeted from over 12 million to something less that one million. That’s how helpful the payments have been. Then along came small organic farmers who although unsubsidized for the most part, began doubling and tripling in number with each passing year. Whoa. Can’t have that, for heaven’s sake. That might mean that government subsidies don’t really help farmers. Maybe, perish the thought, government doesn’t know how to help farmers. Or, perish two thoughts, maybe government doesn’t really want to help farmers but just wants cheap food so the people can afford to buy more SUVs. Any trend toward farmers becoming successful without government subsidies has to be stopped. Uncle knows how to do that. Offer them money.

If you think I am only joking, examine the rules of this new game. The fifty million dollar “Organic Initiative” subsidy is to help organic farmers, and I quote, “implement conservation practices on the farm.” Hmmm. Isn’t every real organic farmer already doing that? Isn’t that part of any proper definition of organic farming?

Rule number two: “Conservation practices that farmers have already adopted are not eligible for payment.” Amazing grace. If you have already been doing what every responsible farmer should be doing, you don’t get any money, sucker. This isn’t the first time for this. A few years ago I learned about another government giveaway under the Conservation Reserve Program that paid farmers who stopped cultivating land next to creeks and rivers. Great. I had taken my creekside acres out of cultivation years ago. I triumphantly stomped into the Natural Resource Conservation office, and gleefully applied for my payment. The girls in the office, who must daily endure frustrated farmers grudgingly applying for their farm welfare payments, studied me over the rims of their glasses, wondering if it was safe to give me the bad news. They read me the rule: “Conservation practices already adopted do not qualify.” If I wanted a CRP payment, and I’m not joking now, I would have to plow up my creekside land and put it to corn for two years! (This particular rule has been changed since then although not completely.)

Rule number 3: “Only organic and transitional farmers are eligible for Organic Initiative payments.” Aha. Pretending great solicitude for organic farmers, the government has finessed its way into being the arbiter of who is “organic’ and who is not. All of us involved in organic farming know how in the past the government has been partner to several attempts to water down organic rules to help large-scale farmers qualify. Now organic farmers will be more willing to go along with government definitions because they are all on the take. As for “transitional,” I am reminded of the alcoholic who insists he is going to quit drinking and to prove it, he now skips his usual brace of triple martinis on Sundays.

And finally, rule number 4: The NRCS ranks applications for Organic Initiative bribes on the basis of “predicted environmental impact.” Obviously the bigger the concentrated animal facility or the cultivated grain farm, the more will be the predictable impact if the situation is improved. Guess who will get the lion’s share of the money. Get big or get out. Goodbye, organic farmers.

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