The Maize Maze

11/20/2007 06:18 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

So it looks like the farm bill's pretty much dead, a flattened carcass of Beltway roadkill covered in tractor
tracks, waiting to be scraped up and sent to the landfill (too full
of inorganic matter and toxins to be compostable.)

killed it? You might be inclined to blame partisan wrangling, but, in
fact, the farm bill is one area of legislation where regional
alliances routinely trump party allegiance. So we can thank "the age-
old coalition of Democrats and Republicans that has preserved
Depression-era farm subsidies for most of the past century,"
according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which cites the mutually
beneficial "formula of buying off urban interests with food stamps
and environmental money in return for keeping crop subsidies."

Most Americans don't give the farm bill a single thought,
and those who do tend to assume that all those subsidies to corn and
soy farmers constitute some sort of commodity crop/corporate welfare
system that's largely to blame for our dysfunctional food chain.

But is that really what's ailing American agriculture? Tom
Philpott, who tills the soil at Maverick Farms when he's not toiling
for Grist, posted a suitably contrarian take on the whole farm bill
debate earlier this month, "It's the Agronomy, Stupid," in which he makes
the case that the subsidies are only a symptom, not a cause, of the
insane overproduction that drowns us in high fructose corn syrup,
cheap livestock feed, ethanol, and all that other corn-based crap we
think we need.

Oddly enough, as Philpott points out,
Agribiz giants like ADM and Cargill seem willing to relinquish the
commodity crop subsidies because they're holding up all kinds of
international trade agreements. President Bush, too, favors severely
curtailing the subsidies; it's a win-win position for him--makes him
look fiscally responsible while catering to his corporate cronies'
desire to hasten globalization.

So who still supports the
subsidies? According to Philpott, "The voice for preserving subsidies
has come from large-scale farmers themselves, mostly through the
American Farm Bureau Federation."

Iowa alone gets some $500 million in fixed payments
to farmers annually
, so you can see how politicians who hope to
get reelected in the heartland might be reluctant to withdraw--or even
redirect--such a big chunk of change.

So what does the
Senate's failure to pass the farm bill mean for the average consumer?
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, it "blocks an increase in
spending on a vast array of popular programs to improve the American
diet, make farming practices more environmentally sustainable, and
provide California fruit and vegetable growers a place in federal

With all due respect to the creators of " href="">King Corn," I think "King" is too
kind. Try "Tyrant Corn."