Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., got in a Twitter tiff a few weeks ago with the Oregon Farm Bureau over his vote to limit agricultural subsidies.
On June 14, Blumenauer announced he plans to offer an amendment to the fiscal 2012 agricultural appropriations bill that would cap Title 1 commodity program payments at $125,000 per entity.
The cap, Blumenauer said in a press release, "would cut wasteful government spending by more than $650 million a year."
Fair enough. But Blumenauer, who represents Oregon's 3rd Congressional District that consists mainly of Portland, then logged on to Twitter to fire a shot across Farm Bureau's bow, which has been critical of cutting the programs.
"When the corporate agri-business lobbyists at the American Farm Bureau think you're wrong, it's a good sign," he wrote. "Time for our family farmers and ranchers to be represented by someone who is looking out for them, sadly it's not the Farm Bureau."
Barry Bushue, president of the Oregon Farm Bureau and vice president of the American Farm Bureau, said he was planting tomatoes when he learned of the tweets.
"I thought it was ironic that he was accusing us (of supporting big agri-business) and my wife, myself and my son are on our hands and knees in dirt planting tomatoes," he said.
Blumenauer took it a bit further in an interview with Capital Press reporter Mitch Lies.
He said Oregon Farm Bureau repeatedly has come out in support of farm payment programs that provide funds to the largest 10 percent of the nation's farmers, while providing nursery and fruit and vegetable farmers "crumbs."
"I don't think there is any question that the majority of farmers and ranchers in Oregon are not well served by the current farm bill," Blumenauer said. "Eighty-seven percent of the men and women who farm and ranch in Oregon get 'zippo.'"
We can't fault Blumenauer for starting a conversation, albeit a bit confrontational, on ag program reform. It's a conversation that needs to take place, and the sooner the better.
However, the congressman overlooks the fact that the vast majority of farm payments throughout the country, no matter the size of the individual check, go to family farmers.
But we agree with Blumenauer that farmers are ill-served by the current farm bill. That has less to do with the particulars of the farm program than it does with the fact that the vast majority of USDA appropriations go to food stamps and other nutrition programs, not to farmers of any stripe.
We're not sure you can judge the worth of the commodity programs solely on the basis of the number of farmers who qualify and utilize the program. By that criteria, most Oregonians get little from the millions of dollars in federal subsidies that go to urban mass transit, bike trails and wind turbines.
There are really only two relevant questions that must be answered concerning farm subsidies, and indeed any federal subsidies: Do they accomplish the goals set out by Congress, and can we afford them? With a national debt that is north of $14 trillion, financial considerations may soon trump any consideration of their value to the recipients.