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Increase or eliminate federal farm funding?
By ANN HINCH
Tennessee Correspondent

DECHERD, Tenn. — “The last five years have been difficult ones for the family farmer,” Clinton Morris of Decherd, Tenn., told legislators at a recent Alabama hearing on the 2007 Farm Bill.

Morris, who was invited to the Feb. 7 hearing by Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.) – who serves on the House Committee on Agriculture, sponsoring the hearings – said he and his family farm 2,500 acres of soybeans, corn and wheat and raise 100 head of cattle.

Even with all that, “without the farm subsidy program, we could not have made our land, equipment and operating bills,” he told the committee, citing the rising costs of fertilizer, seeds, fuel, equipment, chemicals and the like. “I can think of no other industry that requires so much capital for such a small potential profit.

“How can we purchase $250,000 combines, $150,000 tractors, $400-per-ton fertilizer, $3-per-gallon fuel, $1.75-per-gallon propane, along with high-priced seeds and chemicals, while our commodity prices remain the same?” he questioned.

Other growers do not favor commodities subsidy payments.

Ed Wiederstein of Audubon, Iowa, who testified at the House hearing in Nebraska March 4, is likely in the minority of vocally favoring abolition of support payments. He suspects, however, there are more farmers who silently nurture the idea.

Wiederstein, a 33-year farmer who feeds 10,000 hogs and 120 head of cattle in addition to farming 800 acres of corn and soybeans, admitted he receives subsidies as “a small percentage of my gross income.

“I’m going to take it as long as I can get it,” he said. “But if it goes away, that’s okay with me.”

Wiederstein said several factors culminated in him changing his mind during the past few years.

He believes American farmers are in a rut because the continued subsidies stymie ingenuity and marketing skills.

“Farmers can be very entrepreneurial, but this dependence sure has suppressed it,” Wiederstein said.

“Small farms have been disappearing since the 1930s,” he added, citing better technology to do more with less, as well as subsidies. “I have seen the changes from very diverse farms to strictly corn/soybean farms … I doubt those changes would have been as drastic if not for the generous crop price supports.”

Wiederstein does not recommend eliminating supports cold turkey. “It’s easier said than done, and I realize that,” he said. “Those who survive – those who can adapt – I think we’ll be stronger, we’ll be a global powerhouse.”

3/29/2006