Ag Subsidies with a Twist of Noem

Ran across a letter today from a Dr. Michael B. Slama in the Yankton Press & Dakotan. The two take-aways were that Kristi Noem is a hypocrite and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is an independent voice for South Dakota. Here’s a bit:

The KELO blog states that Rakota Valley Farms has received $2,765,175 in farm subsidies from 1995 to 2008. If Kristi Noem is a “Tea Party” and/or Republican candidate she apparently loves socialism more. Actions speak louder than words.

If one would need that much money to keep a ranch going (of which she has 16.5 percent interest) it looks like time to get out of the farm business. What do you think she would do in Congress if subsidies for farmers were up for debate? Is this the type of person we want representing us in D.C.? While it is legal to get this money, it is morally reprehensible — it is what it is — a form of farmer welfare.

Those who drop by even from time to time understand that I am not a supporter of agricultural subsidies. I’ve talked with a number of farmers and ranchers over the years and find that they too often wish that matters were different–and that folks were rewarded by the market in accordance with their efforts. And, yes, I find such subsidies to be the outworking of socialistic economic planning.

The reality is that if one is to run a farm or ranch in South Dakota in 2010, one takes advantage of whatever programs are available from the federal and state governments. Why? Because the market is based on the subsidies. If a farmer/rancher today tries to function without the subsidies while competing with all of the neighbors who are using them, he has to work much harder. I’m not saying that it cannot be done, but I am saying that the effort involved precludes most people from being willing to bet the farm on the success of a subsidy-free farming approach. Yes, there are any number of hobby farmers who do not use subsidies, but I’m speaking of those who are attempting to farm for a living.

In short, the playing field (or the meadow, if you prefer) is steeply tilted in favor of those who farm with subsidies. If taking this money is “morally reprehensible” then we need to unplug the subsidies from the market for everyone at the same time.  Realizing that markets do not like sudden changes, I’m even willing to consider a farm bill which would entirely eliminate direct and indirect farm subsidies over a 5-to-10 year period.

I am reasonably certain that Noem stands the same place that Thune, Johnson and Herseth Sandlin do: in support of those subsidies that South Dakota farmers and ranchers have come to love. I’ve postulated (but I don’t know exactly how to go about proving it) that it is not possible for one to be elected to represent South Dakota at the federal level unless one is a supporter of farm subsidies and alternative fuels. After all, those issues are of great interest to the ag industry here in the state. Despite being a full decade into the 21st century, South Dakota is still largely driven by agriculture and dependent industries.

What would Noem do if there was a vote in the House for farm subsidies? Well, I suppose she would do about the same thing that Herseth Sandlin does and vote for the bill.

There are any number of issues where these two ladies would disagree, but I don’t see that this is one of them. Believe me, I wish it were.

10 thoughts on “Ag Subsidies with a Twist of Noem

  1. Based on what I see Dr. Slama accepts Mdicare and Medicaid – if he was so against government subsidy – he would give up that part and do it for nothing also – that’s if he was a standup guy. Is it just me – does it seem these left wing nuts typically come from the eastern side of the SD state line.


    1. I made this same point in response to his letter in the Argus Leader. Seems his criticism of Noem is rather hypocritical. Any elected official who came out against the farm program would not be an elected official for long.

      1. Ramund,

        Unfortunately, I think you are correct in your estimation of the importance of the ag subsidies to the political equation here in South Dakota. I would wish it to be otherwise, but fear we will see no diminishment of subsidies until those who benefit from them come to understand the long-term (and in my opinion, unsustainable) costs associated with them.

    2. SDMike,

      Not sure that East River has a lock on those who struggle with logic. You are correct in noting that it is difficult for any to be against government subsidies–when they are so much a part of our society. At the very least, however, Dr. Slama points to the inconsistency of his position at the very time he wishes to point out the inconsistency of Noem’s.

  2. OK, I wish the SHS people would just put a sock in it as regards farm subsidies. Here is what SHS has seemed to conveniently forget:

    ‘The Herseths of South Dakota. Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD), elected in November 2002, was appointed to a seat on the House Agriculture Committee. While records indi­cate that she receives no USDA subsidies, her father and former South Dakota governor, Ralph Lars Herseth, is a major beneficiary of federal farm pro­grams. Between 1995 and 2005, he received $789,575 in federal farm support for a diversified portfolio of crops and farm activities.’


    for Ralph Herseth’s farm subsidy payment breakdown from 1995 to 2007 totaling $954,153.

    1. Lydia,

      Thanks for the data. As I noted, this is not the issue to be praising Herseth on. In addition to her family (her father, in this case) getting subsidies, she has voted consistently in favor of the Farm Bills–which include scads of ag subsidies every time.

  3. I think this raises a bigger question about the level of honesty in the “limited” to “no government” sentiments. Far be it from me to argue in favor of the current types of subsidies it appears that farmers and ranchers get and yet there is a level of governmental involvement necessary in the largest industries to which we are all part (I don’t exclude computers/high tech in which I am presently employed). The examples abound: industries like agriculture are global (imports and exports between economic regions and countries occur on a mind boggling scale (think of how wheat farmers in Russia are connected with wheat farms in the midwest, or how certain types of imports (like beef/madcow) need to be controlled because of disease). One simple example of a subsidy might be to allow farmers to practically produce something domestically even though something foreign can be brought in more cheaply. If it’s something like trinkets at Wal-Mart, that’s one thing, but a countries food or energy production systems are entirely different. The wheat farming thing is an interesting case of that; what if America imported all of its wheat from Russia because it was “cheaper” – would the natural disaster in their crop this year have a more catastrophic effect on the domestic economy? Or if we decided it was cheaper to import all our meat from where it’s more cheaply raised, like Mexico, but where oversight for disease might be scant –

    I think this is where people like Noem (and Sandlin, if ever she takes up the mantra) need to give some practical details (perhaps some honesty) along with some of the familiar slogans and rhetoric. If, for example, she believed as many do that subsidies are what amount to bilking for large agricultural producers and negatively affect “family farmers” then it would be more honest to state this in terms of the framework that exists rather than the misleading myth of self reliance. I suppose the option of really not taking subsidies exists but that’s a level of honesty I doubt we’ll ever see from any politician. (Ok, maybe Ron Paul… )

    1. David,

      Since there is no litmus test for Tea Party adherents, those who identify themselves with that movement (and might thereby be considered in the “limited” government sentiment) are quite varied in the degree to which they wish government got out of their affairs.

      With that said, I don’t know that I would consider someone dishonest who was benefited by subsidies (after all, I am certain that I’ve benefited in some way) while they spoke against government control of the industry via subsidies. If someone comes out against subsidies, particular subsidies, and then is a recipient of the same, that is cause for placing the “dishonest” and “hypocritical” label on them. I do think we should be careful to consider that not all subsidies are the same in extent and effect.

      I would agree with you that some degree of government involvement is necessary in any number of trans-national economic exchanges. However, I am largely in favor of letting those who would most efficiently produce a product do so. In your example of the wheat, I would like to believe that if the Russians can produce a better product more cost effectively than can we, that we would do well to buy it from them. Of course, disasters can happen anywhere, so there is some hedging which must occur so as not to put all of our economic eggs in a single basket. Things such as disease and other quality factors must be weighed with everything else.

      You didn’t mention it, but I believe we still have a $0.50 tariff on every bushel of soybeans which we import from Brazil–to the end that we don’t really get any soybeans from them if we can help it. But, if they can produce them more reasonably and at a level of quality with which we are comfortable, why the reverse subsidy (tariff)?

      Honesty on the part of Noem, Sandlin (and every other elected official) would be marvelous. The truth is that things do look bleak in many areas of our economy–and an honest approach to things will not lessen the negatives. Of course, the problem with politicians being honest on the specifics is that we’ll hold them to their statements next time ’round–and that leads to people being unelected.

      I would welcome an honest discussion about ag subsidies, who gets them, why we have them, how long they’ve been here, what they really cost, why they are thought necessary, etc. I don’t think the electorate is ready to go there–at least not in this ag-heavy state.

  4. Farm subsidies are why a conservative state like south Dakota keeps sending liberals to Washington D.C. We loves our farm subsidies, it’s welfare we can’t stand. Unfortunately I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I personally would like to see farm subsidies and the consequent stupid Gov’t rules and quotas attached to them disappear. The farmers and the markets would be much better off. As would the consumer.

    As for the 1st commenter bagging Dr. Slama for accepting Medicare & Medicaid. Those are not subsidies. They are single payer insurance type programs. I’m sure he would much rather have payment in full, from the patient, rather than the 70% Medicare pays, but does not wish to refuse service to those patients as some doctors rightlfully do. He deserves to get full pay for his efforts just like farmers do. But not from the taxpayers.

    1. Jefferson,

      I’ll second that desire to remove farm subsidies, quotas, etc.

      With regard to Medicaid and Medicare, those are not subsidies for the doctor, as you note. They are subsidies for the patients. It is wrong to consider them the same, but it would have been helpful for the good doctor to note that he doesn’t like them and would like to see them go away. He does indeed deserve to be paid in full for his work.

      But, your reminder to use correct terminology is noted.

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