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Farmer in the red

(article, Kim Carlson)

Last spring, Minnesota farmer Jack Hedin planted tomatoes, watermelons, and other vegetables on land he leased from neighboring corn farms so that he could meet demand for his CSA program and from the natural-food stores he supplies. In the New York Times this past Sunday, Hedin explained why that decision cost him more than $8,000:

bq.The commodity farm program effectively forbids farmers who usually grow corn or the other four federally subsidized commodity crops (soybeans, rice, wheat, and cotton) from trying fruit and vegetables. Because my watermelons and tomatoes had been planted on “corn base” acres, the Farm Service said, my landlords were out of compliance with the commodity program.

bq.I’ve discovered that typically, a farmer who grows the forbidden fruits and vegetables on corn acreage not only has to give up his subsidy for the year on that acreage, he is also penalized the market value of the illicit crop, and runs the risk that those acres will be permanently ineligible for any subsidies in the future. (The penalties apply only to fruits and vegetables — if the farmer decides to grow another commodity crop, or even nothing at all, there’s no problem.)

bq.In my case, that meant I paid my landlords $8,771 — for one season alone! And this was in a year when the high price of grain meant that only one of the government’s three crop-support programs was in effect; the total bill might be much worse in the future.

Dishearteningly, according to Hedin, the new Farm Bill won't help this situation, since it won't do much at all to encourage farmers in states other than Texas, Florida, and California to grow fruits and vegetables.

And as if this weren't enough bad news for one farmer, Chews Wise blogger Sam Fromartz — an acquaintance of Hedin's — recounts his earlier blog post on the floods in Minnesota last summer, and the extensive damage they caused to Hedin's farm.