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Farm Bill Debate: Mega Farms vs. Family Farms

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March 9, 2009

Lyons, NE – The Center for Rural Affairs, a Midwest-based group that advocates for rural community development, says the most effective thing Congress and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack can do to strengthen rural communities and family farming is to stop subsidizing mega-farms.

Farm payment limitation rules are currently in a holding period, with rural communities waiting to see what happens when a 60-day comment period ends. Chuck Hassebrook, who is executive director of rural policy development with the Center, says the 2008 farm bill was bad legislation that hurts family farming by failing to invest in the future of rural America. He says effective payment limitations are essential for family farms to survive and thrive.

"We need to re-open this farm bill because this bill is bad for family farming and rural America, and when we do re-open it we need to take the money we save by putting a real cap on payments to mega-farms and invest it in the future of rural South Dakota. We need to invest it in support for small business development to help programs like South Dakota Rural Enterprises to provide grants so they can go out and help get more businesses started."

Policymakers opposing payment limits say they go beyond Congressional intent and would adversely affect producers nationwide. Hassebrook disagrees; he says the current system tells farmers tht the bigger you are and the richer you are the more federal money you get. He says that's bad for rural communities because it helps large farms drive family farmers out of business by bidding land away from them.

"There's a case recently in Western Minnesota where land sold for 6,000 dollars an acre. And when you drive the price of land up to 6,000 dollars an acre, what it does is drive the profit down. And so what we need is a limitation on payments, so we get a farm program that actually helps small farmers compete for land, instead of just helping the biggest farms drive the price of land up."

Hassebrook says the payment limitation proposal supported by the Obama administration does need work, but the instincts are right. He says that as things go for family farmers, so too do they go for rural communities, and it's crucial that rural communities be preserved.

David Law, Public News Service - SD