This Saturday the New York Times printed an op-ed on a subject of growing concern to many of their readers: the local food movement. A farmer from Minnesota wrote in to inform NYT readers about how the Agriculture Department’s commodity farm program was making it difficult for him to the grow fruits and vegetables he sells to fellow Minnesotans at farmers markets. To make a long story short, large growers in California, Florida, and Texas have rigged crop-support programs to make it difficult and expensive for small regional growers like the author to find the fields they need to meet growing demand for their products. The farmer ends his op-ed by asking NYT readers to help him get the federal government out of farming.
Of course, any student modern politics knows that conservatives have been fighting to end federal interference in agriculture markets for decades. In his famous 1964 speech A Time for Choosing Ronald Reagan intoned:
Senator Humphrey last week charged that Barry Goldwater as President would seek to eliminate farmers. He should do his homework a little better, because he will find out that we have had a decline of 5 million in the farm population under these government programs. … Every responsible farmer and farm organization has repeatedly asked the government to free the farm economy, but who are farmers to know what is best for them? The wheat farmers voted against a wheat program. The government passed it anyway. Now the price of bread goes up; the price of wheat to the farmer goes down.
The Department of Agriculture has not improved at all in over 44 years. Most farm subsidies go to large agribusinesses with an average income of $199,975 and net worth over $2 million and actually serve to lower crop prices when they are designed to raise them. Meanwhile, two thirds of all farm production – including fruits and vegetables – thrive despite price supports.
Like every other sector the government touches (health care, education, transportation, etc.), the market is only more distorted once the government gets involved. Entrenched interests will always game the system for their advantage at the expense of the consumer. The solution is to get the government out of as many markets as possible and agriculture is a great place to start.