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And the hell with Nature Conservancy funded by taxpayers!

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Liberty Belle

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Isn’t this a travesty? Let’s do away with farm subsidies all together, or at least limit them to ONLY agriculture producers and ONLY up to a limit of, say, $20,000 per individual, with NO corporations receiving a dime.

Conservancy top subsidy recipient
By Frederic J. Frommer, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — The Nature Conservancy received more money in agriculture subsidies than anyone else in Minnesota last year, but the top five farm recipients in the state combined for more than $1.7 million in subsidies, Department of Agriculture records show.

The records were obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Nature Conservancy received $557,000 in subsidies, in exchange for conservation easements on prairie land the group is restoring in the northwest part of the state.

The top five farms received between $340,000 and $375,000 each, with Hector Farms of Hector, Minn., topping the list.

Ron Nargang, state director of The Nature Conservancy, said his group received payments for putting conservation easements on 1,400 acres. Most of those payments ranged between $360 and $430 an acre.

The group is restoring prairies in Glacial Ridge, a swath of land near Crookston that is being turned into a national wildlife refuge. The Nature Conservancy, which is nonprofit, is using the money to help pay off the $9 million it paid to buy the property, Nargang said.

The USDA's conservation programs, he said, "create critical incentives for farmer and other private land owners to consider the importance of good habitat and resource protection."

The top five farms receiving subsidies last year were Hector Farms ($375,000); Sunset Farms of Albert Lea ($352,000); Sanders Farms of Truman ($342,000); Four K Farms of Morris ($341,000); and Giese Farms of Hoffman ($340,000).

Under current law, farmers are limited to $360,000 in subsidies a year, but that limit is filled with loopholes that allow many farmers to exceed it. The Bush administration has proposed lowering the limit to $250,000 and curbing the loopholes, arguing that agriculture must help all of government cut the deficit.

Hector Farms, Sanders Farms and Giese Farms all declined to comment for this story.

Gary Pestorious, who owns Sunset Farms with his wife and son, confirmed that the farm had received $352,000 last year, but he said that he had to pay back $69,000 to the government when prices rebounded.

"They pay you up front, and if prices come up, you have to pay them back," said Pestorious, who grows corn and soybeans, plus a small amount of peas. "It shows that the safety net is working."

Pestorious made no apologies for receiving government subsidies.

"The reason farmers need a safety net is there are so many critical elements beyond our control," he said, citing the weather and changes in government policy — such as Bush's proposed cuts.

"There are no guarantees with farming," Pestorious said.

He rejected criticism that too much money flows to larger farms.

"The point is that the subsidy is on a per-acre basis," Pestorious said. "If you farm more acres, you will get more subsidies."

He also argued that the subsidies served a societal good, in keeping down the cost of raising crops so food costs could be contained.

Harvey Koehl, whose family owns Four K Farms, was less enthusiastic about receiving the government payments.

"I'd just as soon there weren't any subsidies," Koehl said. "The only reason we take subsidies is so it's an even playing field. I'd just as soon it was down to zero" (for everyone).

Koehl said the money is being spread out among several families that farm the land.

"We have 10 families living off this land," he said.

Richard Levins, an agriculture economist and professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, said that farm payments help to keep land values high and livestock feed prices low.

"So if you took the payments away, either the crop's going to get more expensive which is going to make feed more expensive or the land value's going to have to fall," he said. "So dropping these payments is not a trivial thing."

But Levins said he agrees with Bush's proposal to cap the payments at $250,000.

"That's a reasonable figure," Levins said. "The trick is how to make it effective and sell it politically. There will be a lot of resistance from larger farmers."

Fierce opposition is likely from cotton growers in the South, California and Texas, who get higher subsidy amounts.

"Minnesota and Wisconsin do have a tradition of relatively small farms," Levins said. "That's slowly unraveling, but other states have always had large farms, and they're going to have larger payments."

On the Net: USDA: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usdahome
 

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