Even though I spend a lot of time growing stuff and raising animals, I am an unreal farmer. A real farmer spends about half the year farming and the other half up at the FSA office trying to figure out how to cultivate the government. Cultivating the government takes real brains. I did not realize that until I received a yellow card in the mail last week. It was from the FSA. Even unreal farmers get notices from the FSA. Here is a list of things on it that I could not comprehend:

Direct and counter cyclical payments (DCP)

Acreage Crop Revenue Election (ACRE)


Supplemental Revenue Assistance (SURE)

The De Mimmis waiver

Risk Management Purchase (RMPR)

Acreage Reporting deadlines

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE)

Unmarked Map Layouts

All that on a three inch by five inch card. Little explanation was included because real farmers know what these mysteries are all about. Or at least they better, because behind DCP and ACRE and SURE and RMPR and CRP and SAFE lurks plenty of taxpayer money for the farmer who knows how to cultivate these acronyms without telling any lies, or at least not any big ones. The Washington Post calls it harvesting cash instead of crops.

These are not by far the only programs that farmers can wring money out of if they are smart. The most mysterious one for me is the loan deficiency payment program (LDP). Real farmers have patiently explained LDPs to me any number of times. While they are explaining, I think I understand and nod, but two days later when I try to explain it all to someone even less a real farmer than I am, my mind goes blank. LDPs seem to happen when someone in the government, perhaps in consultation with God or his designated archangel in charge of agriculture, sets a pretend price for corn. Then when the real price falls below or above that, there are formulas the smart farmer can use to borrow against it until he goes broke. But don’t take my word for that. To me, LDP might just as well stand for “lingering dark puzzle.”

There is also something called EQIP. I don’t know what that stands for, but among other things, it pays out money to animal factories to keep them from flushing manure into waterways. Another subsidy pays dairymen to slaughter their cows. I don’t know if it has an acronym. KILL might work. The idea here is that if enough cows are slaughtered for meat, the price of milk will go up. Instead, the price of meat goes down. Dairymen slaughter their least productive cows, of course, and as soon as they can, replace them with ones that produce more milk.

The most confusing subsidy to me involves federal crop insurance. I have tried to find out how the coverage works but can’t. Some private insurance companies are making a fortune on it according to various critics. Henry Waxman, the congressman who is looking into the matter, says, and I quote, “federal crop insurance is a textbook example of waste, fraud and abuse in federal spending.”

There is also a payment to farmers that I refer to by the acronym W-E-L-F-A-R-E. It is not much bandied about, but the reason farming has so far escaped the economic crunch of recession is that the government just gives landowners or renters of farm land so much money per acre with absolutely no strings attached. All the recipients have to do is keep on breathing. Trying to find out how much an individual farmer gets is difficult. The government does not have to obey the Freedom of Information Act on this one, which shows even FIA is a farce.

Taxpayers aren’t paying enough attention to the March of the Agricultural Acronyms. I’d love to do a survey. I’ll bet even money that most of us don’t know what FSA stands for. I thought I did, but I was wrong. That just shows how dumb an unreal farmer can be. Do you know what FSA stands for?

PS: I ran one version of this essay in my weekly newspaper column last week. So far the people who have commented all say they don’t know what FSA stands for. I’ll give you a hint. It used to be called ASCS, but I never knew for sure what those letters stood for either.