Will Pennsylvanians Starve Without Farm Subsidies?

Some early criticism coming from the Rendell administration about the Senate budget is that cuts to the Department of Agriculture will result in less farming and possibly event mass starvation. There are two myths behind this rhetoric.

The first being that agriculture is the “number one industry” – there is no data behind this cliche, it is simply something politicians say to pander to farmers and rural voters. Second is the nanny-state idea that unless taxpayers subsidizing farming, it won’t happen.

Most economists agree that agriculture subsidies are not good for the economy, or even for farmers, and Cato gives the top ten reasons to cut farm subsidies.  Our Spending Tips 2009 identifies plenty more state agriculture programs that should be cut from the budget, not increased.  

The fact is that the average farmer receives little support from agricultural subsidies, most of these go to large corporate farmers and land-holders. Furthermore, the items cut in the Pennsylvania budget were largely programs like “Pennsylvania Fairs” and “Agriculture Marketing” – feel-good programs which do nothing to put food on the table.

In contrast, take the case of New Zealand, which ended all agricultural subsidies in 1984.  Not only did their farm industry not collapse, it thrived like never before

If Rendell is truly concerned about helping farmers, he should work to  repeal the state’s inheritance tax, which affects family-owned farms, rather than the corporate farms taking much of the subsidies.