Sun Belt farmers have become almost numb to the seemingly endless stream of numbers spewing from the Environmental Working Group Web site and the Associated Press about farm payments.
The EWG listings of who got what have embarrassed hundreds of producers who felt they had to take the payments or quit farming. A few have quit, in part, because of the publicity from the Internet numbers. Others are leaving despite the payments.
Most of the media attention has been focused on individual farmers. But it might interest growers whose names have been spread all over the newspapers to know which state received the largest amount of farm payments.
It's Iowa. Iowa? Yes, Iowa, the state that is home to Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican, and one of the authors of the Senate farm bill's Grassley-Dorgan payment limit amendment, and to Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat and Senate Agriculture Committee chairman.
It turns out that Iowa's farmers and landowners have received $8.7 billion in farm payments since 1996. That is more than the total amount of Agricultural Market Transition Act (AMTA) payments that were supposed to be made to the whole country in any year of Freedom to Farm.
That interesting tidbit of information came to light in an April 12 Des Moines Register story about an auction for two brothers who had put together a 25,000-acre farming empire headquartered in Riceville, Iowa.
The story noted that the brothers, Bob and Dean Dvorak, and their wives had received $2.6 million in federal farm payments from 1996 through 2001. But that wasn't enough to keep them from ending their partnership and selling their equipment.
As the Register article noted, the Dvorak operation, which at one time included land in three states, was something of an oddity in Iowa, where smaller operations are the rule. USDA statistics show the state has a total of 95,000 farms.
That an operation received $2.6 million in farm payments and couldn't stay in business says a lot about the current state of the farm economy. And it says something about the two U.S. senators who may have done more to cause the current farm bill stalemate than anyone else.
For openers, it was the height of hypocrisy to stand on the floor of the Senate and chastise Southern farmers for receiving millions of dollars in payments — as Grassley did in February — when your own state has received more payments than any other state.
Not content to leave the process to the farm bill conference committee, Grassley recently went on the House floor to promote a non-binding resolution asking House conferees to vote for the Senate bill's payment limit amendment. House conferees ignored it because it wasn't in the House farm bill.
Then, there's Harkin, who has argued at length for the Grassley amendment and for higher loan rates and a ban on packer ownership of livestock and country-of-origin labeling and….
Between them, Grassley and Harkin have helped turn the farm bill debate into an ordeal that has left thousands of farmers in limbo waiting to learn if they can farm again or, like the Dvoraks, put their equipment up for auction.
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