Grower: Subsidies help Big Ag, not small farmers
Striking a proper balance is key to the good life organic food grower Scott Washkowiak of Palisade strives to provide for his wife, Jessica, and 18-month-old son, Clive.
His sense of balance fine-tuned by chasing big waves on a surfboard from California to Panama, Washkowiak now demonstrates equanimity by planting a wide variety of crops at the community-supported agriculture farm he and his wife operate, Field to Fork Community Supported Agriculture.
As he tended rows of greens, herbs, roots and fruits on Tuesday, Washkowiak paused to criticize the federal government’s approach to farm subsidies. The program is off balance because it leans in favor of big agribusiness, he said.
Mike Mechau, who owns the land Washkowiak farms, agreed.
“I think the original intent of farm subsidies was to stabilize agriculture, but especially as a boost to family farms as a way of life,” Mechau said. “It’s been converted into a subsidy for big agriculture.”
Data compiled by Colorado Public Interest Research Group appears to bear this out.
CoPIRG’s July report claims U.S. taxpayers provided more than $292 billion for farm subsidies since 1995, $178 billion of which went to fewer than 4 percent of the nation’s farmers. Meanwhile, 62 percent of all farms, including small, family-owned operations like Washkowiak’s, received nothing.
One reason is the way federal farm policy favors grain crops like corn and wheat over specialty crops like peaches. Of the $292 billion spent since 1995, $84 billion went to corn subsidies, $35 billion went to wheat and $28 billion went to soy, according to the report.
“This policy encourages huge farms to overproduce,” CoPIRG Field Director Lisa Ritland said.
Overproduction of corn, for example, led directly to the widespread use of high fructose corn syrup as a food additive, a sweetener credited with contributing to the epidemic of obesity and diabetes currently facing the country, Ritland said.
The extra corn is also sold for processing into ethanol, a gasoline additive.
Talbott Farms President Charlie Talbott said as a local peach grower, his family’s operation does not qualify to receive direct subsidies, which are payments to farmers made regardless of their individual economic need. His company does benefit from federal assistance that helps pay for crop insurance, he said.
“Farm subsidies go to grain. They have a history of manipulating our food prices,” Talbott said. “On one hand, it makes food more reliably available and more reasonably priced, but then you get into this ethanol and you end up upsetting the traditional supply and demand streams.”
Talbott said he favors continuation of the program that helps his farm afford crop insurance premiums, a key safety net that cushions the blow dealt by natural disasters that can destroy entire crops.
The final version of the farm bill that will fund farm subsidies for at least the next five years is currently awaiting Congressional action needed to reconcile divergent bills passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, Ritland said.
“CoPIRG’s big goal is to cut these subsidies, to cut the fat out of the farm bill,” she said.