Subsidy disconnect

There has long been a disconnect between the political views of many Kansas farmers and their reliance on agricultural subsidies. They rail about government spending while depositing government checks.

But some farmers now recognize that cutting government spending may require reductions in farm subsidies. And to their credit, they are OK with that.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, has talked candidly about farm subsidies while touring his “Big First” district. The Washington Post reported on one such town-hall meeting at the Graham County Courthouse.

“If you’re a farmer like me, you’re going to expect less,” Huelskamp said. “Something’s going to go away. The direct payments are going to go away.”

For the most part, farmers have been supportive — or at least resigned to a new fiscal reality. As one farmer said at Huelskamp’s meeting: “They’ve got to cut somewhere.”

But others warn about the impact a loss of subsidies could have on rural Kansas.

“Our farmers take that money to town and use it to buy farm machinery, vehicles, washing machines,” said Steve Baccus, president of the Kansas Farm Bureau.

The Big First ranked second in the country, behind only North Dakota’s single congressional district, in total federal agricultural subsidies in 2009, collecting $368 million, according to the Environmental Working Group. As a state, Kansas ranked fifth that year in subsidies, drawing $912 million.

Losing a significant amount of that money could be a major blow to the Kansas economy — and to Gov. Sam Brownback’s effort to reverse population declines in rural counties.

The GOP “Path to Prosperity” budget that the House passed in April contained $177 billion in cuts to agricultural programs over the next decade, including $30 billion from direct payments and crop insurance.

President Obama also proposed reducing subsidies to farmers with incomes of more than $250,000 a year.

Last week the Senate voted 73-27 to end more than $5 billion in annual subsidies for ethanol. Most farm-state lawmakers, including Kansas’ GOP Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, opposed the measure.

Such reductions have a way to go to clear Congress. And farm groups and other special interests will lobby to block or reduce the cuts.

Still, the House and Senate each approving subsidy cuts and rural lawmakers such as Huelskamp openly defending the cuts are significant shifts from farm policy as usual.

So is the willingness of more Kansas farmers to put their government money where their anti-government mouth is.

— For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee