*Food security, including nutritional aspects, sometimes termed
*Economic - income, employment (implicitly in rural areas)
*Ecologic - environmental protection, natural resource conservation, including biodiversity, disaster prevention (floods, landslides), protecting rural landscapes
*Social - viability of rural communities and hence maintaining rural
I don't contest the validity of the claim that agriculture has a lot of effects beyond the farm gate. I am just not convinced that these would be lost if the government didn't create programs to subsidize agriculture. For example, I have heard the food security arguement used too often: "if our farmers go out of business, who will produce our food?" I have yet to see productive farmland go out of production because a farm business collapsed; somebody else just takes it over and farms it. The personal hardship and family distress that this displacement involves is undeniable; the broader economic ramifications are less dramatic, though.
I think the same sort of argument holds true for the other non-farm services of agriculture.
Agriculture will always be multifunctional, with or without government intervention. In any case, I'm not sure that government knows enough, or is competent enough, to develop policy instruments (taxes, subsidies, risk management devices, etc.) that optimize the range of all these functions. Heck, too often programs work at cross-purposes.
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