By former USDA Secretary John R. Block
As a farmer, I would not like it if Europe shipped subsidized beef into our market. That would undercut our prices. What if Brazil shipped subsidized soybeans to us? We would be furious.
Did you know that the U.S. government does this all of the time? Think about it this way. There are millions of people underfed, some starving, in many countries. The humanitarian thing to do is, send them food. And we should, but it’s not as simple as that.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to ship 500 metric tons of surplus U.S. peanuts to Haiti. High protein, nutritious peanuts could feed 140,000 children. Who could complain? You guessed it – the Haitian peanut farmers. As you can see, providing food to needy people in other countries is a difficult balancing act.
One reason we might want to give away peanuts is because the U.S. government accumulated 113,000 tons last year. How did we get all those peanuts? It is because we still have an outdated farm support program for peanuts.
When I came in as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in 1981, we had support programs for many crops. Take corn, for example. A farmer could harvest his corn crop and get a government loan for X number of bushels at a designated price. If the market did not rise above that price, then the government took the corn as repayment for the loan. USDA had millions of bushels of corn and wheat and dried milk and cheese and on and on – all in storage.
Over the years, we have gotten rid of those support programs that resulted in government ownership of grain. Thank God. But there are, in fact, a couple of ancient relic programs still on the books – peanuts and sugar. When we write the next farm bill, the peanut and sugar programs need to be reformed. Let the free market work.
One final comment – I am happy to see the Presidential nominating process decided. It’s not a surprise that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. However, on the Republican side, I have friends that are shocked that Trump will be the Republican candidate. Maybe he is too. It’s like the dog chasing the car. What do you do if you catch it? He caught it. Trump’s victory is a big surprise to many. Maybe he will surprise his critics again in November. It will be interesting to see.
John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill. If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit johnblockreports.com.