116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
There is severe water pollution from agriculture in Iowa, but farmers surely can't afford to clean it up. Most current proposals trying to reconcile these two sides do not provide enough money for the needed changes, even as many resist any new spending. They're also too weak to do much good in the real world. They're certainly far too weak to persuade the city of Des Moines to drop it's lawsuit, which is what one proposal asks. The likely results are either gridlock, failed results, or burdening of the politically weak: farmers.
Clearly what's needed are proposals that think outside of the box.
One example is Governor Terry Branstad's plan to fund changes through an education fund, pitting liberal leaning educators against environmentalists. Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett would use the funding challenge to win liberal support for a flat tax. On the liberal side, Frances Thicke emphasizes a federal approach, using farm conservation plans, through USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
I offer a proposal from the radical center. While both state and federal initiatives should be enacted, only the federal farm bill has the power to reconcile discrepancies of this magnitude, or to cause them, which is largely what's happened.
Over the past 60 years Congress, led by conservatives, reduced and eliminated New Deal price and inventory management programs. While corn averaged over $12.00 per bushel (2014 $) in the 11 years before these reductions, (1942-1952,) it was only $3.67 over nine years after price floor elimination (1997-2005). That concluded a quarter century where major farm prices were below full costs almost every year, and we lost money massively on exports.
Through cheap prices farmers subsidized the loss of their own value-added livestock to CAFOs. With that, they also lost sustainable crop rotations, as the key crops, pastures, alfalfa and clover are livestock feeds. Our entire farming infrastructure was devastated.
This was strongly reinforced by pro-CAFO state legislation, against the interests of independent hog farmers.
A restored and enhanced inventory management farm bill could fix the water quality dilemma. First it could provide more than enough marketplace money for the foundational changes, with much less total government spending. As in the past, there would be no farm subsidies. A new social contract could pair major water quality changes on farms, with adequately restored price floor levels, as needed, to cover costs. So farmers could pay for their own changes.
Supply management rules could allow livestock grazing on unplanted land, as needed to sustainably rediversified Iowa farms, reversing recent trends where just four corporations now own 66 percent of all U.S. hogs, including 25 percent for the Chinese. This, plus reversal of pro-CAFO state legislation, would radically green up rural Iowa.
This solution easily eliminates the division of farmers versus environmentalists, consumers, and taxpayers. Food items would again be fairly priced. Farm bill savings could fund food stamps much more adequately, as needed.
' Brad Wilson farms part-time near Springville, and works on federal farm bill issues. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org