Dairy subsidies are hard to swallow

Op-EdDairy subsidies are hard to swallow

Agriculture,  | Quick Take
Aug 25, 2016  | 5 min read | Print Article

Originally published on October 27, 2017 in The Daily News of Newburyport

Some might say too much cheese is a good problem to have. Finally, shoppers at the grocery store can afford pricier cheese for their Triscuits.

But this is America, where government farm subsidies are literally a way of life. Without them, entire regions of rural farm country would go bankrupt. And, horror of horrors, shoppers would pay less for cheddar at the check-out counter.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Milk Producers Federation, however, are there to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Dairy farms, apparently, are going broke producing too much cheese. So they want the government to buy the surplus to keep prices up and keep them in business. The cheese, according to the Agriculture Department, will be given to soup kitchens, food banks and school lunch programs.

Government Cheese = Dairy Subsidies

There are way too many things wrong with this idea. Although in the twisted world of farm subsidies, the idea, and others like it for other agricultural commodities, isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, it’s only going to get worse.

But at least someone is watching this profligate, carefree industrial welfare spending.

According to a national government watchdog group — the Taxpayers for Common Sense — it makes no sense from a dollars and cents perspective. The dairy farmers’ group wanted the government to buy $100 million to $150 million in cheese to bolster prices and keep them profitable. The Farm Federation wanted $50 million thrown at the problem.

The USDA, meanwhile, said it could only spend $20 million for 11 million pounds of cheese — a mere drop in Bessie’s bucket, they said — which will just barely keep the dairy farmers’ heads above milk, er, water.

The Common Sense folks — themselves a rare commodity around Washington, D.C. — said the deal stinks like two-week-old 2 percent.

“It’s yet another example of USDA caving to the demands of an agricultural special interest wanting taxpayers to foot the bill for lower-than-desired prices,” said Joshua Sewell, senior policy analyst for Taxpayers for Common Sense.

That’s just one of many things wrong with this gambit.

Looking at the logic of the situation, one could argue that it might be more beneficial for the government simply to destroy the cheese rather than give it away — as that will only further depress the already low prices. But with so many hungry people in the world, that would be political suicide.

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So they play the same old political game, which is to bolster big agriculture at the expense of the American consumer.

The dairy advocates say that last year when this happened, 12,000 dairy farms went out of business. (That seems a little high. It might be worth looking into that number a little more closely, but that’s a story for another day.)

The politicians have also come to the rescue. A bipartisan group of 61 congressmen — mostly from dairy-rich states like New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — are lobbying the secretary of agriculture to open up the spigot of taxpayer cash and pour it into their states’ dairy coffers.

The Common Sense taxpayers, meanwhile, have to shake their heads at the notion that their money is being used to buttress an industry that will now be able to charge them more at the checkout counter.

It’s not just dairy. Apparently the cotton industry is looking for a $300 million bailout.

And this, perhaps, is the biggest problem of all: The request, if complied with, sets a precedent for all the other farming sectors out there.

“Since $20 million falls far short of industry demands, one can only assume this is an appetizer, and an entree-sized purchase of excess cheese is still to come,” Sewell said. “Every other commodity experiencing low prices is sure to swarm Washington looking for their own special program.”

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