The biggest item on Congress’ to-do list is how to deal with the farm bill before it expires at the end of September. The farm bill sets our nation’s agricultural and food policy, including food assistance and rural development programs, but it also lavishes billions of taxpayer dollars on large, profitable agribusinesses.

These subsidy programs were created during the Great Depression to provide a financial safety net for small rural farmers. Many of these programs, however, have lost their way, and the farm bill disproportionately subsidizes large agribusinesses.

Seventy-five percent of the $277 billion spent on agricultural subsidies since 1995 went to just 3.8 percent of the country’s largest farms — not small family farms. In Maine, 82 percent of farmers don’t see a dime.

Big Ag is using this summer’s drought as an excuse to push through a farm bill that would lock in these unnecessary subsidies. These giveaways, however, have nothing to do with helping farmers hit by drought and natural disasters. In fact, struggling farmers already are receiving help through existing disaster programs.

Local farms often grow a variety of produce and are involved in small-scale sustainable food production, teaching the public about where their food comes from and developing demand for nourishing food. These subsidies put our local farms at a competitive disadvantage.

With only a few weeks before adjourning for the election, reauthorizing or extending the farm bill is one of Congress’ top priorities. Either way, it is crucial for Congress to reform the outdated agricultural subsidy system and end these corporate handouts. Members on both sides of the aisle will campaign on cutting wasteful spending. How they handle the farm bill will be an important test of their commitment to do so.

Richard Rudolph, owner

Rippling Waters Organic Farm

Nicole Karatzas

U.S. PIRG Maine Associate

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