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Michigan Farm Bill Hearing benefits agribusiness not the public

June 2, 2011

On Tuesday, Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow hosted a hearing on the 2012 Farm Bill in East Lanisng that primarily served the interests of the agribusiness sector.

There was limited news coverage of the hearing and what coverage did exist was fairly superficial. The Lansing State Journal ran a very brief story that provided no context or details for readers.

The other stories we came across were not as brief but only provided the perspectives of Senator Stabenow and representatives from the agribusiness sector. A Detroit Free Press article gave one sentence to Senator Stabenow and a few lines to a 400-acre farmer from Midland who also serves as the director of the National Corn Growers Association.

Michigan radio aired a story that was a bit longer and cited a representative from the MSU Extension, Senator Stabenow and a cherry farmer from Leelanau County who is also the chair of the Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee with the American Farm Bureau, which according to SourceWatch is a right wing front group for US agribusiness.

Follow the Money

Since there has been limited reporting on the content of the Farm Bill hearing we can only draw some conclusions based on who attended and the history of the agribusiness sector in Michigan.

According to the online source Michigan Farmer the bulk of those who sat on panels and presented at the hearing were agribusiness people. Agribusiness groups represented were the Michigan Corn Growers Association, Michigan Sugar Company, US Apple Association, Michigan Pork Producers Council and the Michigan Milk Producers Association.

There is no mention of small farmers being present, those from the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) sector, farm workers, farmers markets or the general public, which continues to have limited options with the food they buy.

One of the main reasons that the hearing was stacked with representatives from the agribusiness sector is because they depend so much on taxpayer subsidies. According to information from the Environmental Working Group, billions of dollars of government subsidies have been given to the large agribusiness sector in Michigan alone.

1            Corn Subsidies**                        50,306                        $2,030,750,107

2            Soybean Subsidies**                        29,147                        $556,331,027

3            Wheat Subsidies**                        37,099                        $327,709,169

4            Conservation Reserve Program            17,786                        $310,264,447

5            Disaster Payments                        20,085                        $299,369,091

6            Dairy Program Subsidies            5,922                        $208,146,457

7            Env. Quality Incentive Program            2,752                        $76,280,887

8            Apple Subsidies                        877                        $27,716,155

9            Wetlands Reserve Program            309                        $22,718,995

10            Livestock Subsidies                        9,490                        $22,708,057

This data is based on the amount of times each sector (the first number) has received a subsidy since 1995 and the total amount of government subsidies (second number) since 1995.

This amount of taxpayer provided subsidies raises numerous questions about what benefit there is to the consumer and to long-term sustainability. Small and independent farmers do not get these kinds of subsidies, yet they provide us with more of the fruits and vegetables that we actually eat. The corn and soy sectors often grow their crops for export or as feed for the livestock industry.

Do any of these sectors have to adopt environmental standards in order to receive subsidies? What kind of reporting are they required to do so that the public knows what they are eating and what risks are prevalent in farming communities when it comes to pesticide use?

If the apple industry is getting millions in subsidies why can’t they pay migrant workers a living wage to do the difficult work of picking apples? These are questions that likely were not raised during he hearing based on who spoke, but these are questions we all need to be asking if we are serious about food production serving the greater good.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Frankie Jones permalink
    June 12, 2011 8:54 pm

    While it is great that the bill benefits agribusiness, it needs to keep in mind both the farmers and the public at large. While I have been part of our family farm for years, I can see both sides of this picture and the importance to stay up to date on what is happening. I recently discovered and they are amazing. They have the latest news, updates, and reports for farmers and other agricultural businesses, including information on agribusiness. While I do work for them, I have worked in the field of agriculture for years and have yet to find another resource that can compare to them. They honestly offer a lot great information there, as well as the chance to interact in their forums, share stories, promote my business, and buy or sell products and services. You should check them out.

  2. Jeff Smith permalink*
    June 12, 2011 9:00 pm

    Frankie, I’m not sure I follow your point. This article was intended as a criticism of the lack of news coverage on the Farm Bill and the inherent agribusiness bias. The website you reference supports the agribusiness sector and in no way supports the type of critical thinking that this article was attempting to address as it relates to farm subsidies.


  1. Is Stabenow really defending farmers? « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  2. Senator Stabenow announces plan for more corporate subsidies « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  3. Rally for Fair Farm Rules 4 p.m. Thursday at Calder Plaza « Our Kitchen Table
  4. Coverage of Campaign to Target Stabenow on Farm Bill « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  5. Stabenow announces Farm Bill hearings on Washington, continues to support subsidies to agribusiness « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  6. Stabenow continues to support Farm Bill subsidies to agribusiness « Our Kitchen Table

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