Weeds: Another sheepish stand on payouts

Farming is a singular, sometimes lonely activity. That’s why we farmers talk to our cows, pigs, even our soybean plants. I recommend a good, long talk with a soybean plant. They are more reasonable than many human beings and less likely to troll you on social media.

Despite working alone, farmers historically have banded together in groups. There are the old-time farm organizations like Farm Bureau and Farmers Union. Historically the Bureau has leaned right, and the Union has leaned left. Sometimes they lean together and try not to fall over.

In recent decades, the commodity groups have come to prominence, promoting certain groups of growers. These are organizations like the National Corn Growers Association, American Dairy Association, and the Associated Rhubarb Producers. I am a member of the United Giant Ragweed Growers Association and have won several state contests in giant ragweed production.

In 2012, I was involved with the founding of a new farm organization: Producers Opposed to Obscene Payments, aka P.O.O.P. 2012 was a year of record profits in agriculture. Prices were high, yields were good, and subsidized crop insurance guaranteed healthy returns. Farming was all kinds of fun!

On top of all that, farmers were receiving large “direct payments” from the government. Li’l farmers like me were getting thousands of dollars. High-roller farmers were getting many thousands of dollars. In response to that illogical situation, P.O.O.P. came into being.

These wonderfully generous payments were based on…get ready for this…nothing. Smart people had decided farm payments should be “decoupled” from prices and yield. Near as I could tell, farmers were getting the money because we’re nice guys.

During this same time, politicians were looking high and low to be sure some schmoe on welfare didn’t get a couple hundred bucks he didn’t deserve. Yet no one could figure out how to not send $5 billion to farmers, some of whom were millionaires.

P.O.O.P.’s first national convention was a raucous affair. Farmers who were embarrassed by this state of affairs came from across the country. We talked about holding P.O.O.P.’s inaugural gathering at some luxurious Caribbean resort and writing it off. That didn’t quite convey the message we wanted to send. So we settled on my machine shed with a couple cases of Keystone.

We chose officers, and the newly elected P.O.O.P. functionaries took control of the meeting. Next order of business was writing of by-laws by a committee of in-laws, out-laws, and scoff-laws.

When it came time to deal with the issue at hand, a motion was made that farmers decline our direct payments, hoping to maintain an ounce of pride. A lengthy debate ensued that went on late into the night, well after the Keystones were gone. Finally, an alternative proposal passed. We agreed to take the money, but sheepishly and slightly embarrassed by it.

I look back on that as a missed opportunity to make a statement. You could call it a stain on P.O.O.P.

The next time P.O.O.P. gathered, a new Farm Bill was in place, one without those generous Direct Payments. Heretofore future farm payments would be based on something. Only no one knew what.

Farmers could choose whether to sign up for Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC). Who better to deal with this conundrum than P.O.O.P.? Again convention attendees worked late into the night. We read and reread things like:

“ARC payments for a given crop are paid when the actual county revenue for the crop falls below the County benchmark revenue guarantee. The actual County revenue is the final County FSA yield times the final MYA price. The MYA price is the national average corn or soybean price from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31. The MYA price is then “weighted” at the end of the year, based on the volume of bushels sold in each month.”

Huh? There were pages of this gobbledygook. After scratching our heads a lot, and running out of Keystones again, we decided to do what everyone else was doing. Which was signing up for ARC. Don’t ask me why.

The upshot is that as farm revenue declined, payments to farmers shrunk. That didn’t make any sense. But it reduced the need for a group of producers opposed to obscene payments. P.O.O.P. went into a hiatus.

As you probably saw in the news, P.O.O.P. was called into an emergency session last week. This was in response to the current state of agriculture which can best be described as “perilous.”

Prices have been in a death spiral for several years. Then they fell off a cliff when our president decided that a trade war was a good idea, announcing that “Trade wars are easy to win.” Prices went from a slow decline to a free fall. Farmers will be chewing through equity this year, which is a nice way of saying “losing money.”

As you know, farmers voted en masse for this president. The White House was not going to abandon these faithful, and it was announced the government will give farmers $12 billion dollars in aid. Since that is money the government does not have, P.O.O.P. decided this qualified as an “obscene payment.”

At the P.O.O.P. gathering, there was discussion about whether farmers’ affection for our 45th president was well placed. He has spent his life in New York, never done any physical work, and knows nothing about agriculture. Why do we think he represents us? Someone pointed out that he has married three models with various porn stars and Playboy bunnies in between, and that we all sort of wish we could do that. And that he calls people names like a sixth-grade bully, and we all sort of wish we could do that, too.

He promised to overturn trade agreements that have allowed United States farmers to export much of our production to the world, which he has. In addition, he offended our longtime allies, demanding they bend their policies to our wills. This conveniently ignores the fact that our country has protected sugar for decades.

So, what to do about the $12 billion being used to placate farmers? A voice in the back of the room suggested we tell the president to shove the money up…but he was hollered down. In the end we decided to take the money, but sheepishly and slightly embarrassed by it.