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Archiponics: Crop Subsidies - The Good and The Bad

Is it time for the US government to stop subsidizing corn farmers? Is it time for the US government to stop subsidizing corn farmers?

The U.S. pays around $20 billion per year directly to farmers in the form of crop subsidies. Crop subsidies are designed to ensure that farms do not go out of business and to make food more affordable.  If food is more affordable, not only does it mean that those less fortunate can afford food, it also means that consumers are spending less money on food and more money in other ways, encouraging overall economic growth. According to a USDA study, lower income Americans increased their spending from an average of 10% of their income on food to almost 25% within a two year period.

Although it is crucial to keep food affordable for all Americans, the current subsidy system has some serious side effects that we believe outweigh the benefits. The crops that our government subsidizes with taxpayer money include soy, rice, wheat, and corn. This graphic designed by Kitchen Gardeners International clearly shows how that subsidy money is delineated, with 35% of the annual $11 billion budget going to corn.

The massive corn subsidy has encouraged farmers and corporate agricultural companies to produce much more corn on a regular basis than we might ordinarily. So, what do we do with the remainder of the corn the government has already paid for? We export a large amount; corn is a major factor in America’s over $100 billion agricultural export business. Surplus corn is also used to create products like corn syrup. Because corn syrup is so cheap, it has kept down the cost of junk foods that are high in corn syrup. This has adversely affected the diets of Americans and helped create an obesity epidemic. The declining health of Americans combined with the rising cost of medical care makes health emergencies the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S.

The farmland produces more diversified product per year than other heavily subsidized states, and it’s food that has a higher value to the consumer.

Food producers should take a look at California, where very few subsidized crops are grown. (Crops like nuts, fruits, and vegetables are considered “specialty crops” by the USDA and do not receive subsidies.) In California, the largest agricultural producer in the U.S., the sales of these crops are not taxed, which means that growers operate in free markets. The farmland produces more diversified product per year than other heavily subsidized states, and it’s food that has a higher value to the consumer. Not only does this “system” raise the value of the land, those farmers are making more money than the farmer receiving subsidies from the government. Also, “specialty crop” farming forces California growers to be more innovative and to become more efficient in the use of water, fertilizers, labor, and other inputs. It forces growers to follow market trends and grow products that the consumers need, just like any other business within any other industry.

“U.S. sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to $26.7 billion in 2010,” according to the Organic Trade Association. Now, I ask you, what food producers wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

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Colin and Karen Archipley are California farmers turning a profit without government subsidies.
Last modified on Monday, 30 July 2012 13:49

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