At 04:14 PM 9/28/98 -0000, Hal Hamilton wrote:
>There was a SANET post last week suggesting that if farmers are subsidized,
>as in Europe, this is inherently unsustainable. I agree that much
>subsidizing of agriculture is goofy, paying farmers to grow too much of what
>doesn't sell, in a sense using farmers to launder taxpayer money to
>subsidize the exporters and large feed lots.
>I'd suggest a different framework. Farmers produce not only food and fiber,
>they also produce a variety of other public goods and/or externalized costs.
>Externalized costs are well known in the environmental arena-water
>pollution, for example. Public goods are the flip side-tourism, landscape,
>wildlife habitat, maintenance of biodiversity, frequently better job
>opportunities for young people than are available at fast food outlets. For
>the most part, however, only food and fiber production is rewarded in the
>market. Farms usually generate the same income whether wildlife habitat is
>planted or destroyed.
>This is one reason why some European countries subsidize agriculture-to pay
>for the public goods that the market does not reward. It is also why
>regulations are essential-to require that externalized costs be
>internalized. Ultimately the entire tax system should be shifted from
>taxing income to taxing consumption of non-renewables, but that's a long
>time off since we can't even tax gasoline in this country!
>Anyway, my point is that public subsidies for public goods are invaluable to
>sustainable agriculture in a market economy. Alpine dairy farmers produce
>some of the best cheese in the world from a grass-based system that draws
>tourists, stimulates rural development, and preserves biodiversity. Without
>subsidies, it would be only trees and occasional play houses for the
>wealthy. So I hope that subsidies don't stay forever a dirty word in ag
>Center for Sustainable Systems
>433 Chestnut St., Berea KY 40403
>Phone: (606) 986-5336; Fax: (606) 986-1299
Director, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources
Cooperative Extension Program Leader - Agriculture and Natural Resources,
Natural Resource Stewardship, and Food Safety
College of Agriculture and Home Economics
411 Hulbert Hall
Washington State University
Pullman, WA 99164-6230
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