Easy as hitting a bull in the backside


In late July, this space highlighted recent investigative stories by reporters at the Washington Post.
The stories, as explained then, centered on the “2002 drought bill (that) sent farm program billions to nonfarming farmers, nonranching ranchers and nondrought-suffering ‘victims.'”
In the five months since, the same Post reporters, Gilbert M. Gaul, Dan Morgan and Sarah Cohen, have stitched together more stories to unroll an even larger carpet of farm program windfall, waste and witchcraft. (Readers may recognize Morgan’s byline. His 1979 book, Merchants of Grain, was the classic study of multinational giants Cargill, Louis Dreyfus, Continental, Bunge and Andre’ and their secretive, global grain cartel.)
Waste and corruption. Finding waste and corruption in American farm programs, though, is like hitting a bull in the butt with a two-by-four – given its size, it’s hard to miss.
Uncle Sam, after all, sends farmers and ranchers truckloads of taxpayer money – $40.8 billion in 2005 and 2006 alone. What the Post series, titled “Harvesting Cash,” did exceptionally well, however, was tie names, dates and amounts to the gritty, Capitol Hill game that delivered the windfalls and waste.
For example, in an Oct. 16, piece headlined, “Crop Insurers Piling Up Record Profits,” the reporting trio lays out the political and financial recipe that cooked up federal crop insurance, one of agriculture’s least competitive, most profitable enterprises.
In 2002, “a small upstart insurance company,” named Crop 1, approached USDA’s crop insurance arm, the Risk Management Agency, with a plan to offer farmers a price discount of up to 10 percent; a reasonable move for a firm looking to carve out a niche in the billion-dollar market.
But, “An eruption ensued,” continues the story. “The other companies quickly turned to Congress to quash the idea


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com