Ag Policy Blog

Responding to EWG's Capitol View

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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I never thought I would write a blog about a column someone else wrote responding to an opinion piece, but what the heck.

Tom Sell's commentary posted on on Wednesday demonstrates some of the problems facing agricultural policy in Washington. The voices of agricultural critics are louder and coming from all sides. This now becomes one of the downsides of the delays in completing a farm bill.

Sell's commentary was forwarded to me by another farmer who wrote that the article was worth our time to read.

Sell's column was in response to an op-ed by Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group. Faber had penned his op-ed for Politico on July 17. The Faber column was headlined "Worst. Farm Bill. Ever." As Faber noted, "It might come as a bit of shock that House Republicans overwhelmingly voted to pass a bill that increases government-backed insurance subsidies by nearly $10 billion. After all, they have voted 36 times to end taxpayer-financed subsidies to expand health-care coverage.

"In fact, 48 Republicans who voted against the farm bill that failed in the House in mid-June switched their votes this month to support a bill that not only increased unlimited subsidies but also locked them in forever."

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A column such as that in Politico gets attention. Hill staffers, congressmen, lobbyists and straying visitors from flyover country have free access to publications such as Politico, the Hill and Roll Call. They are as much a part of the daily bread as the stale bagels at the Longworth cafeteria. I like to read them when I'm in D.C. just to see what the trends are in advertised lobbying on any given budget item.

Sell had a strong, critical response to Faber's commentary. As Sell notes," Faber has made a living of playing big vs. small and making full-time farm families out to be the bad guys. So he complains “the bottom 80 % get less than $5,000 apiece.” But those bottom 80 percent aren’t full-time farmers. To be in Faber’s small and worthy category, your total sales (gross sales — not net income) has to be less than $50,000. For row crop farmers, that is about a 50-acre plot which has not been enough to make a living for about a century or so. This 80% of “farmers” makes up just 4 percent of total production. They are part-time farmers, that while important to rural America do not feed and clothe the country. Our greater concern should be for the full-time farmers — those grossing greater than $250,000 who make up only 9.85 % of the total, but produce more than 85% of total goods."

Yet, the effect of Sell's piece is limited because it lacks the same kind of medium that was offered to Faber.

Moreover, Faber and EWG are prolific in their campaigns right now against different elements of agriculture. By the time Sell has his article posted on, Faber and a fellow EWG staffer have moved on, both in lobbying and sharing their opinions a Politico piece on July 29, "Reform the Ethanol Mandate."

Once again, the Beltway environmentalist was given a Capitol Hill audience to further pontificate about reshaping another rural policy issue. Faber, it seems, is never short of views on ways Congress should make changes in rural America.…

I can be found on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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