Sunday, September 9, 2007

Regional coverage of farm bill

As I learn more about the 2007 Farm Bill, which the Senate will consider later this month, I can't help but marvel at the range of journalists' coverage of the impact of the Bill.

For example, a July 26 SF Chronicle article portrays the existing -- and future -- farm subsidies as assisting people other than salt-of-the-earth farmers. The lede of that story explains that San Francisco heiress Constance Bowles collected $1.2 million in cotton subsidies from 2003 to 2005. In fact, five crops typically receive 92 percent of federal farm subsidies and this practice will likely continue if the Farm Bill passes. A subsidy monopoly seems unfair to the "little guys" who were the intended recipients of farm subsidies in the 1930s. Another piece, this Sept. 6 column in the San Jose Mercury News, also shows the skepticism of California journalists writing for urban papers. So, according to these articles, the Farm Bill appears to deliver more of the same by giving the biggest payments to the biggest farms.

But wait--articles from newspapers located in rural (or at least "less urban") areas tell a different story. A July 28 (Minnesota) Star Tribune article explains that the subsidies are not just helping the wealthy, and that most of the payments "'go to people making between $50,000 and $100,000.'" Furthermore, the Star Tribune article states that the reforms in the 2007 version of the Farm Bill are "reasonable." This Sept. 8 article from a small Wisconsin paper suggests that subsidies are a necessary part of farmers' incomes. According to these articles, the Farm Bill maintains the status quo, which DOES include helping the small, nonmillionaire farmer. In other words, the "little guys" need the subsidies and the Farm Bill provides aid to those who need it.

I understand that a regional angle is a necessary part of every story, but I am concerned that I'm not getting a clear picture of all of the benefits and drawbacks to the 2007 version of the Farm Bill. This link, from the USDA website, seems helpful, but I wonder how many people will actually take the time to click through the various documents and do their own research. In understanding the Farm Bill, relying upon journalists' views alone will not provide a complete picture.

No comments: