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Weeds: Straight P.O.O.P. on farm programs

Farmers had a year about as good as the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers lost 114 games. Ron Gardenhire manages the Tigers, so we know the Tigers “battled.” Those years Twins losses piled up when Gardy managed here, you could count on him to tell us the players “battled.”

Through bad weather, prices, and worse weather, farmers battled in 2019.

Now it’s winter on the farm. The crops are in, the equipment put away, and the cows are hibernating. There’s time to catch up with the bills that are in the basement ’cause your wife got sick of that pile of papers in the kitchen.

It’s meeting time, when farmers gather to learn things and get a free meal. “Free” meals that cost $50,000 when you pay for supplies. But they throw in a hat, and we’re happy as clams at high tide.

Farm organizations hold meetings this time of year. There are commodity groups like the Corn and Soybean Growers, and the Pork Producers Association. I am a long-time member of the Broadleaf Weed Growers Federation. That group has fallen on hard times as it’s getting harder and harder to grow a good crop of weeds.

I’ve reported in the past on the Producers Opposed to Obscene Payments. P.O.O.P. was formed when farming was at historically high profit levels, and the government kept sending us money. No one could figure out how to turn off the spigot when the sink was overflowing.

It seemed like P.O.O.P. might disband when farming profits shriveled. But a new farm program that was written on Bizarro World and cost you taxpayers lots gave P.O.O.P new purpose. Then the Market Facilitation Program (MFP), affectionately called the “Trump Payment,” started flinging money around about as carefully as manure coming out the back of a spreader. That was supposed to make farmers feel better about losing markets that took decades to develop and were incinerated in a couple of Tweets.

P.O.O.P. is a resourceful group. The committee to plan our Annual Meeting came back with two low-cost alternatives for a location: the Orchid Inn in Sleepy Eye or George’s Ballroom in New Ulm. There wouldn’t be much for amenities like heat and running water, but farmers are used to making do.

George’s was chosen because of its proximity to more bars. When P.O.O.P. delegates arrived, we found the door was locked. Thankfully one of the guys had a Sawzall in his truck, and we were soon calling the meeting to order.

It was dark in George’s, but everybody’s got a flashlight on their phone, so “No problemo.” When corn was six dollars, we had meals catered by Lola’s which were excellent. Six-dollar corn is a faint memory, so the meal was brought in by Bob’s Discount Bullheads.

We invited Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to address our group. Historically the Secretary of Agriculture is a leading advocate for farmers. Sonny has altered the job description. You may have heard about his joke at Farmfest. “What do you call two farmers in a basement? A whine cellar!” Ha.

Then Perdue said to a group of dairy farmers, “In America, the big get bigger, and the small get out.” With friends like Sonny, who needs enemies? Unfortunately, he couldn’t make our meeting. Something about working on his stand-up routine.

First order of business for P.O.O.P.ers was to look at the new farm program. Farmers must decide by March whether to sign up for ARC-CO or PLC. As none of you know, those are Agricultural Risk Coverage at the County Level and Price Loss Coverage. They are each convoluted formula for setting a level of price protection that no one understands.

The thing about this is you can get it completely wrong. If I choose incorrectly, I could really screw myself. So, the farm program which in theory reduces risk for producers begins with each of us rolling the dice. What universe does that make sense in?

Over and above benefits from the Farm Program you taxpayers have been extra nice the last two years with the Market Facilitation Program. The “Trump Payment” is to offset damage done to the markets by the trade war. We are told we are winning that war. Funny, I thought winning would feel better.

As we were planting last spring, the ag media was filled with rumors about MFP and how it would be divvied out. There were reports of chaos within USDA. We can hope that more reflection and rational decision-making is going into our foreign policy. You might want to check the supplies in your fallout shelter.

Last year the payment was based on bushels produced, which had problems. This year it was based on planted acres, which has problems. Next year they might base it on number of cats you have around the place. Our friend Sonny said we’re getting payments because, “President Trump has great affection for America’s farmers.” Aw.

$28 billion in MFP payments is more than was spent on bailing out the auto industry, which was fiercely debated by Congress. The administration used a questionable loophole to create the MFP out of thin air and, voila, no congressional approval needed!

In the current ocean of agriculture, I am a guppy. My MFP was over $15,000 last year. If li’l old me was getting that much, farmers running lots more land were getting lots more money. Thousands of farmers got over $100,000.

There is a payment cap of $125,000. Loopholes the size of Iowa mean that large farms with accountants can blow past that about as easily as you can step around cracks in the sidewalk.

Unlike most government programs, there is no means testing. Jim Justice is the richest man in West Virginia. He is a billionaire who made a fortune in coal and runs 50,000 acres for fun. Justice Farms received $125,000. I bet Jim would enjoy pizza and a beer at Carl’s Corner. We could talk tillage and old tractors.

While the Department of Ag was doling out $28 billion to farmers, it was cutting $5 billion off the food stamp program. 700,000 Americans won’t get $190 a month for food. Many of these have mental and physical disabilities, many are veterans, many have children they are contributing to. This is because they should “go get a job.” P.O.O.P. wondered if some of the farmers getting hundreds of thousands of dollars shouldn’t have to get a job.

Should taxpayer money be spent to buffer farmers from the vagaries of the weather and markets? A case can be made for that. Should taxpayers be giving out billions to support millionaire landowners? Maybe not.

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