Tilling our public treasury


Some aspects of American agriculture are quite odd. For example, to meet a farmer these days, there’s no need for you to venture out to the hinterland — because thousands of them actually are city slickers.

And they’re really slick, for many of them neither plant nor harvest wheat, cotton, peanuts or any crops at all. Rather, relaxing in their often-luxurious urban nests, they farm the federal farm bill, harvesting millions of dollars each year from taxpayers. A new report from the Environmental Working Group reveals that more than 18,000 people living in America’s 54 largest cities pocketed about $24 million last year from the ag department’s direct payment program.

New York City, for example, has 152 of these “farmers,” San Francisco has 116, Chicago 393, Denver 821, Tampa 100, Tucson 328 and Houston 1,405. That’s because the program makes payments not only to real farmers, but also to people who merely hold an ownership interest in farmland, whether or not any crops are raised on it and even if the city-dwelling recipient has never visited the place.

Ironically, this cockamamie payment scheme was put into the 1996 farm bill as a transition measure to wean farmers off subsidies. But it’s been renewed twice, and it looks like our gridlocked Congress is about to do it again, even though it pays zero to the majority of America’s farm families. Indeed, the bulk of the $5 billion paid out annually goes to the biggest spreads, including multimillion-dollar corporate operations.

Even if Congress critters finally muster the political gumption to stop this absurdity, they intend to replace it with a more bizarre crop-insurance scam that’s a guaranteed income program for multimillionaires, allowing them to keep tilling our public treasury.

For more information go to www.ewg.org.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.