“Start with the prospect of $6-a-gallon milk,” writes Tom Dennis in the Grand Forks Herald at the beginning of an editorial listing all the dire consequences which will take place if we don’t pass a farm bill by December 31st.
“The Farm Bill does more than just guarantee a safe and affordable food supply,” he concludes. “It touches American life in countless ways, the vast majority of them for the better.”
Dennis, who frequently extols the virtues of “good government,” misses the lesson of this apparently dire crossroads in public policy. We have so thoroughly tied up something as basically necessary to the existence of civilized society as farming the land with so much bureaucracy and red tape – endlessly attended to by an army of bureaucrats and grandstanding politicians – that the farmers themselves must wait with the sort of anxiety they normally reserve for weather patterns to see what sort of legislative activity emerges.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to admit that there’s too much government in farming.
Maybe it’s also time to admit that the real impetus for all this policy isn’t so much protecting farmers as giving the politicians yet another political football to play with. North Dakotans watched as Senator-elect Heidi Heitkamp unfairly bludgeoned Republican opponent Rick Berg with the farm bill during this year’s campaign. The politicians love the farm bill, because it’s a useful political tool.
But food isn’t cheaper because of farm bill policy. Our food supply isn’t more stable, and more secure, than ever before because of farm policy. These are fictions sold to us by the politicians. Food is cheaper because of technological innovations and scientific developments that have made farming easier less labor intensive. Our food supply is safer because of pesticides that protect crops, and genetically modified seeds that are resistant to diseases.
All the government has done is drain much of the entrepreneurship out of farming. Most ag policy doesn’t benefit the mythical “family farm” so much as it lines the pockets of big agriculture corporations.
America would be better served by an agriculture industry less in the thrall of politics.