Strange Heritage

January 13, 2009

WASHINGTON (Jan 13, 2009)—The Riverwalk was hopping as farmers from across the country descended on San Antonio for the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 90th annual convention this weekend.

The city’s convention center looked like most farm shows. John Deere and Case IH rolled in the big green and red tractors, U.S. automakers showed off the latest pickups, seed and insurance dealers chatted with growers, and the concession stand sold stale hot dogs for $4.00 apiece.

But this year’s show had a new comer—The Heritage Foundation, a large DC think tank with a $61 million budget.

Yes, the same Heritage that’s published nearly 10 anti-farm-bill pieces since 2007—including “Seven Reasons to Veto the Farm Bill” and “The Farm Bill and Other Bad Ideas”—had a booth at the show. Talk about walking into the lion’s den.

Don Andringa, a wheat, soybean, and sugar farmer from Minnesota, visited the lonely booth to learn more. According to Don, the brief exchange went something like this:

DON: Didn’t you guys lobby against the farm bill?

HEITAGE REP: We don’t lobby, we’re a think tank.

FARM POLICY FACTS COMMENT: Some people might consider it lobbying to host briefings and publish reports meant to influence votes on Capitol Hill. But Heritage is correct; their staff of 244 doesn’t include registered lobbyists.

DON: Okay, so what are you here thinking about?

HERITAGE REP: The budget deficit and the fact that the government should not spend so much taxpayer money on energy.

FARM POLICY FACTS COMMENT: With thousands of ethanol producers in the room and record farm input costs caused by dependence on foreign oil, this guy was lucky there wasn’t an Alamo reenactment at his booth.

DON: What abut farm policy?

HERITAGE REP: I don’t know much about the farm bill.

FARM POLICY FACTS COMMENT: Smart answer. Since its Heritage’s position that the government should not spend so much taxpayer money on the farm safety net either, he was close to getting skinned like Davy Crockett’s hat.

Don is a farmer, not a “scholar” from a think tank, but even he knows that the federal government’s nearly $1 trillion dollar budget shortfall will not be balanced on the back of American agriculture.

After all, farm programs account for just 13% of the farm bill’s budget and just one-quarter of one percent of total federal spending—a pretty good deal to ensure the world’s safest, most abundant, affordable food supply, while simultaneously helping maintain a strong rural economy during tough economic times.

Not to mention, the commodity title was the only title in the farm bill that saw a budget DECREASE in the recently passed farm bill, and it was the title that came in 23% UNDER budget during the 2002 farm bill.

Heritage would probably be better off advocating for budget cuts elsewhere, preferably somewhere that wouldn’t jeopardize our country’s food or energy security to save a few pennies to pay for large corporations’ tax loopholes.

Maybe Heritage should think back to the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and then take a long look in the mirror. “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”