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Proposed Changes to Farm Payments May Help More MI Farmers

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Friday, June 10, 2011   

LANSING, Mich. - Legislation introduced Thursday in Congress could level the playing field for farmers in Michigan and elsewhere.

The Rural America Preservation Act of 2011, sponsored by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Tim Johnson, D-S.D., caps certain commodity payments to prevent large-scale and corporate farms from garnering large shares of federal subsidies.

Taylor Reid, a member of the Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance, says large-scale farming operations have had the resources, capacity and political connections to maximize subsidy payments, leaving the smaller farmers at a disadvantage. From 1995 to 2009, he says, 10 percent of Michigan's farms collected more than 70 percent of the commodity program payments.

"When we're talking about large farms, we're talking about farms that are grossing over half a million dollars a year. When we subsidize on the basis of the amount of produce produced, we disproportionately subsidize those farms that are already making a lot of money."

Tax dollars are being spent on subsidies for farms that are already making large profits, Reid says, even as the federal government is making deep cuts to farm programs. Michigan doesn't reap the benefits of what is sown by corporate farms, Reid says, because they export the majority of what they produce.

"Very little of that money comes back into the local economy. When you have a family farmer, they're buying food at the local grocery, they're contributing on Sunday at their local church, they're buying coffee at the local coffee shop."

The subsidies no longer serve farmers the way the commodity programs were originally intended, Reid says, adding that the program monies should be based on economic need. The bill would limit the payment amount per farm, preventing large-scale farms from using subsidies to expand their operation.

The bill's text is online at grassley.senate.gov.


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