Response to Dr. Luther Tweeten

Delta Farm Press, April 4, 2003.

I asked Dr. Tweeten if the national debate on ending all farm programs had already taken place and didn't his side lose the argument. Didn't Congress and the Commission on 21st Century Production Agriculture recommend that a new farm bill was needed to replace the (then) current bill, Freedom to Farm? His answer was that he did not agree with everything the commission said. The correct answer to both questions was "Yes."

Background: Freedom to Farm was shoved on the farm community in 1995-96 by authors whose goal was to eliminate farm programs. Following two years (1998-99) of rotten farm prices, Congress and the 21st Century Commission agreed that it was in the national interest to continue farm programs. So the experiment to end farm programs failed.

Proof that Dr. Tweeten's proposal is dangerous and irrational lies in recent history and current facts. It is producers who are being short changed, yet Dr. Tweeten is advocating showering more wealth on a sector already recording record profits.

He also advocates taking funds from producers for rural development programs. How foolish. Depopulation in rural areas is happening to a large degree because of the shrinking farm numbers and the rural businesses that once served them. Yes, we need improved infrastructure, water and sewer systems, health care, educational and employment opportunities. But without addressing the largest employer and income generator — production agriculture — it is asinine to think a rural community can become healthy.

This is an undisputed fact: the production system of agriculture in this country has been a marvel. No other industry has so rapidly adopted technology and gained efficiencies at a consistent rate as production agriculture, mainly because of the diverse system of entrepreneurs known as the family farm system. In return for taxpayer investments, citizens are being fed for less of their disposable income than any population on the globe. The farmers' share of that food dollar continues to shrink while the profits soar for those who handle the product after it leaves the farm gate.

The system is serving the nation well and to propose abandonment based on some mythical free market theories is utter nonsense.

I'm grateful that several highly respected economists don't agree with Dr. Tweeten. Data at Texas A&M and elsewhere proves that Dr. Tweeten is wrong when he argues that larger farmers are doing well. It matters not, wherever, whoever, or whatever you grow, if you are dependent on production agriculture you have troubles. Any large, small or midsize farmer doing well in these parts is relying on income from other sources.

We may never be able to do it, but it's past time that we allowed the nonsense coming from taxpayer funded professors to drive our farm policy when they can't defend their arguments with facts.

Harvey Joe Sanner

e-mail: [email protected]

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