The Farm Bill: Unhealthy for You, Unhealthy for California Farms

veggies farm market

beets and carrots farm marketBeautiful displays of healthy food at a California Farmer’s Market showing foods receiving minimal subsidies.

Slide36Display of foods made from ingredients heavily subsidized

I think almost every American feels that small family farms should be supported. Stories of ancestors who lost their farms during the great depression are a part of many of our family’s heritages, including my husband’s. If farming in America were to decline, the consequences for our food security could be dire.

However, from good intentions of protecting farms, our government seems to have created a federal monster that is harming the health of America. The farm subsidies (including crop insurance subsidies) in the farm bill are an example of a federal program gone astray by a broken political process.

America is suffering from an obesity crisis, yet rather than addressing this by providing subsidies to healthier foods, or at least NOT SUBSIDIZING less healthy foods, the farm bill continues to subsidize the foods that are causing us to become fat and unhealthy. The numbers associated with the subsidies to California farmers tell much of the story.

California produces more dollar value of agricultural crops than any other state. It is FIRST on the list of agricultural producers, followed by Texas, Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota. However, the types of crops produced by the top states differ significantly. Most tellingly, California produces one half of all the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the US. ONE HALF of all the foods that have been shown to be some of the healthiest components of a traditional Mediterranean diet. ONE HALF of the agricultural foods Americans need to be eating more of…

If the farm subsidies in the farm bill were in any way tied toward a reasonable agricultural policy, it would seem to me that they should provide some support to the California farmers who are putting fruits and vegetables on the plates of America. Ideally, these subsidies would help keep fruit and vegetable farmers in business and assure reasonable prices of these foods so Americans could afford them. Or at least, they would not subsidize farmers growing less healthy food (such as corn to produce high fructose corn syrup). But sadly, this is untrue. Instead, the majority of the farm bill agricultural subsidies (including crop insurance subsidies) go to large wealthy farmers producing 5 crops: corn, soybeans, rice, wheat and livestock. In addition 70 percent of the farm subsidy payments (including crop insurance subsidies) go to 10 percent of the farms in America.

Even if things were just fairly distributed, with no preferred crops, it would seem that the top states in agriculture production would be those that got the most subsidies. For example, Texas, Iowa, Nebraska, California and Minnesota should be in the top 5 in terms of the states receiving agricultural subsidies. That seems at least fair. And in fact, Iowa is first, Texas is 2nd, Nebraska is 4th and Minnesota is 5th in terms of the percentage of farm subsidy receipts.

But get this: although California is first in agricultural production and produces the most of what I call “healthy food”, and California pays more federal income taxes than any other state, California farmers are tenth in terms of their receipts of Farm Bill subsidies.

Even more disconcerting are the numbers behind California’s farm subsidy receipts. Almost all of the receipts go to producers of cotton, rice, wheat, livestock and corn. Almost  NONE of the farm subsidies go to producers of fruits, vegetables and nuts.  Even tobacco farmers in other states receive more subsidies than California fruit and vegetable farmers. Over 90 percent of California farmers receive no subsidies, and  much of the farm bill subsidies are now going to large, wealthy farm conglomerates.The environmental working group has prepared an excellent analysis of the negative impact of the farm bill priorities on farming in California and it is available at this link. 

The simple math of the farm bill’s impact on California is this:

  • California taxpayers pay 12 percent of all the federal taxes collected
  • California farms produce 13 percent of all the agricultural crop revenue in America
  • California farms produce 50 percent of all the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in America but
  • California farms receive only 4 percent of the farm subsidies in the farm bill and almost none of those subsidies are for fruit, vegetable or nut production

The way this adds up to me, California fruit and vegetable farmers are paying extra taxes to support corn, wheat, rice, soybean, and livestock producers. This is just plain wrong. I know so many California fruit, vegetable and nut farmers who are struggling to make ends meet. The price of good agricultural land in California is going up every day, and pressure to sell the land for development is an ongoing temptation faced by California growers. This lack of support by the federal government for California farmers adds insult to injury.

Every time the Farm Bill works it’s way through Congress these inequities are debated and changes are discussed, and every time the bill that finally passes continues this same pattern of encouraging growers of corn, wheat, even tobacco, more than the farmers growing the foods that Americans SHOULD be eating. The farm bill is being debated right now, and the bill that has passed on for a vote in the Senate last week continues the same old pattern. In an attempt to disguise the pork, they are now attempting to reassign some of the direct payment subsidies to additional “crop insurance subsidies” but it is just more of the same. There is an excellent blog post by Mark Bittman of the New York Times addressing that specific component of the program.

I urge you to call your representatives and tell them to stop giving subsidies (including crop insurance subsidies) to unhealthy foods and big ag. The way I see it, if they can’t redesign farm supports to encourage healthy eating, or at least be fair in their distribution of support for different states with different crop profiles, then they should stop subsidizing farms altogether.

© 2013. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Reproduction of any of this content without written permission of the author is strictly prohibited.

www.californiamediterraneandiet.com

3 thoughts on “The Farm Bill: Unhealthy for You, Unhealthy for California Farms

  1. Dayna, The way I see it is you are spot on. Just another example of both corporate and red state welfare. Worse yet to the demise of our health. What a surprise that those red states don’t refuse these government handouts, as well as insisting on paying their fair share of dollars into the federal tax system that lavishes them with more dollars than they put into the system. Why aren’t these citizens and their representatives demanding change?

  2. To Craig; Little loose with the “red state” lable, aren’t we?

    Looking at the senate, of the 5 states listed above, TX and NE is 100% red, MN and CA are 100% blue, and IA is 50-50. By House, TX 15/36 blue, MN (5/8) blue, CA – 40/53, blue, IA 2/4 blue (50/50 again! How do they get anything done?) NE 3/3 red; total vote of 62 blue and 40 red. Good question; how did CA lose out on this deal considering they have the largest number of representatives in the house, with a significant majority blue?

    Also, there is much more behind this single data point than the simple, short content: “California taxpayers pay 12 percent of all the federal taxes collected” Your state has the largest population in the nation. Your state (as a whole) has some highest personal wealth in the nation. Your state, while 10th in median income, is ahead of all the states you mention in the above post.

    My Grandfather (a share-cropper all of his life) despised the initiation of these subsidies because it paid people NOT to produce! Additionally, why should any American’s taxes go to support a supposed “farmer” in Manhattan, NY that only grows a couple of trees on the roof?

    I totally agree with your stance; NO farm subsidies period! It’s way past time to end these for all concerned.

    I truly wish you and your family well and appreciate all that you and others like you do for our towns throughout the nation. May the family farm forever continue!

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