How hard can it be to pass a farm bill? In this Congress, the task is, apparently, Herculean. Why? Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)! According to President Obama, he’s the one holding up the bill, resulting in a rather hasty purchase of $170 million in pork, chicken, lamb and catfish by the Department of Agriculture. But don’t accuse Ryan of being anti-farm; after all, his “veins run with cheese.” Might want to get that checked out, pal, you’re only 42.
But I digress. The meat purchase is part of a battery of Obama administration proposals for aid to farmers in the drought-stricken Midwest. With the cost of feed exceptionally high and the availability of water exceptionally low, this will be a jump-start to the industry, with the meat itself going to federal nutrition programs and food banks. Other proposals include:
- opening more federal land for grazing
- providing farmers and ranchers with access to low-interest federal loans
- “get[ting] water to livestock”
What does that mean, “getting water to livestock?” Irrigation? More livestock watering facilities? Good old-fashioned water pumps? Rows of people hauling buckets of water from hand to hand, starting at the nearest lake and ending at some holding pond? Selling them Evian for Cows? It hasn’t been made clear, but I’ll go for the first three, and perhaps the fourth if the people doing the hauling are all well-built men.
I can handle opening up federal land for grazing; the less grain consumed by livestock, the better for food prices. The loan proposal isn’t great when you consider how much federal money is given to farmers already. And the meat purchases? They’ll make farmers happy for a while, and it’s hardly as if users of nutrition programs couldn’t use some good meat (assuming we’re talking about users who really do have a hard time buying food and aren’t just taking advantage of weak oversight). A long-term fix? Absolutely not.
But if this drought is part of a continuing pattern, which remains to be seen, the priority should be getting more water to at-risk areas of the country. I recommend looking to Israel for help with this. In recent years, the techniques they’ve employed to “make the desert bloom” have been under fire for going too far, to the point that the reserves used for irrigation and pumping are starting to run dry. Any imitation of those techniques must be proportional to the areas they’re intended to help.
As for the farm bill, I say we keep Congress in session until they pass every spending bill for the year. If that means skimping on vacations, tough. Farmers aren’t getting one.