The House and Senate bills only perpetuate a broken subsidy system. But there is an alternative.
Every five years, Congress rethinks its role in farming. Next week, the Senate debates a bill from its agriculture panel that perpetuates subsidies for a few crops and many well-off farmers. This time, however, it has a fresh choice.
Farming in the US is no longer simply a declining industry that needs a big federal prop-up in the name of "the family farm."
Many other worthwhile nonfarming interests have gained a stake over the years in how government influences the use of millions of farm acres and billions of taxpayer dollars.
Even born-in-the-cornsilk legislators who favor the current bill before the Senate (and a similar one passed by the House in July) have openly questioned the wisdom of traditional subsidies – $16 billion a year – but then they've vote for them anyway under pressure from well-funded farm lobbies.
Their questions start with recent revelations of the many rich farmers and corporations that receive the hefty subsidies.
They start with calls for other, often healthier foods, mainly fruits and vegetables, to also be supported – if there is to be federal support at all – and not just the current, main beneficiaries: corn, wheat, rice, and soybeans.
They start with growing evidence that corn ethanol is a net polluter of greenhouse gases and not worthy of massive subsidies.
They start with the need for better conservation of land, less pollution, and more opportunities for wildlife – which would mean no federal "disaster" support in drought-prone Plains states where commercial farming isn't viable.