Victor Davis Hanson
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The Department of Agriculture no longer serves as a lifeline to millions of struggling homestead farmers. Instead, it is a vast, self-perpetuating postmodern bureaucracy with an amorphous budget of some $130 billion -- a sum far greater than the nation's net farm income this year. In fact, the more the Agriculture Department has pontificated about family farmers, the more they have vanished -- comprising now only about 1 percent of the American population.

Net farm income is expected in 2011 to reach its highest levels in more than three decades, as a rapidly growing and food-short world increasingly looks to the United States to provide it everything from soybeans and wheat to beef and fruit. Somebody should explain that good news to the Department of Agriculture: This year it will give a record $20 billion in various crop "supports" to the nation's wealthiest farmers -- with the richest 10 percent receiving over 70 percent of all the redistributive payouts. If farmers on their own are making handsome profits, why, with a $1.6 trillion annual federal deficit, is the Department of Agriculture borrowing unprecedented amounts to subsidize them?

At least $5 billion will be in direct cash payouts. Yet no one in the USDA can explain why cotton and soybeans are subsidized, but not lettuce or carrots. In fact, 70 percent of all subsidies go to corn, wheat, cotton, rice and soybean farmers. Most other farmers receive no federal cash. Yet somehow peach, melon and almond growers seem to be doing fine without government checks in the mail.

Then there is the more than $5 billion in ethanol subsidies that goes to the nation's corn farmers to divert their acreage to produce transportation fuel. That program has somehow managed to cost the nation billions, to send worldwide corn prices sky-high, and to distort global trade in ethanol at the expense of far cheaper sugarcane. And while the Obama administration discourages new production of far cheaper transportation fuels derived from natural gas, oil, shale oil, and tar sands -- whose newly discovered known reserves are nevertheless reaching all-time highs -- it is borrowing billions to pay farmers to grow uncompetitive fuel.

About every 10 years or so, public outrage forces Congress to promise to curtail the subsidy programs. But when the deadline arrives, our elected officials always find a trendy excuse like "green energy" or "national security" to continue welfare to agribusiness.

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Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.