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How do farmers spell relief? T-a-x d-o-l-l-a-r-s

August 13, 2012|By Paul Whitefield
  • This year's drought in the Midwest is the broadest since 1956, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Above: What's left of corn stalks in Farmingdale, Ill.
This year's drought in the Midwest is the broadest since 1956, according… (Seth Perlman / Associated…)

What’s the difference between a government handout and a helping hand?  I guess it’s in who’s getting the money.

For example, those getting food stamps and the like are often seen not as down-on-their-luck Americans but as lazy freeloaders.   

But if you’re a farmer coping with this year’s drought, well, I guess you’re a different story.

As The Times reported Monday:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday that it would buy up to $170 million of meat from affected livestock producers.

The prolonged Midwest drought has driven up feed costs for livestock farmers in affected areas, and the purchase of pork, lamb, chicken and catfish will provide some relief, the USDA said in a statement.

(Wait, catfish?  We’re buying catfish? Sure, I knew people had catfish farms, but I didn’t know that made them, you know, real farmers. Wonder if they brand them? Do they use dogfish to round them up? Are there ever catfish stampedes?  Catfish rustlers? But I digress.)

It’s not that I’m against farmers.  It’s just that I don’t know why it’s so easy to give them handouts -- uh, excuse me, relief -- but so difficult to justify the same sort of thing for other Americans.

After all, millions of people lost homes after the housing bubble burst, but it’s been like pulling teeth to get them “relief.” Oh no, conservatives say, let the market work. That’s capitalism.

OK.  So why don’t we let the market work for the farmers? I thought farmers were supposed to be at the mercy of the weather. If the housing bubble was a normal business downturn, then the drought is a normal business downturn.

Instead, here’s what’s “normal” for farmers:

Farmers have been lobbying Congress to pass a 2012 Farm Bill, which is currently working its way through the House of Representatives. The current farm bill is set to expire in a few weeks and farmers want a security net in place before planning for next year.

Yes, well, I’d like a security net in place in my industry too.  So would lots of Americans. But go ask Mitt Romney about that: Didn't he just choose a guy as his running mate who wants to shred the security net for most average Americans?

My colleague Alexandra Le Tellier wrote recently that the drought should be cause for examining just what crops we are growing and why. Instead, it looks as if it’s going to business as usual for America’s farmers.

And business can be pretty good when the government has your back.

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