Our Milkshakes Bring All The Feds to the Yard

I absolutely do not understand this:

The proposed extension to farm legislation that expired in September would be for “some months” but for less than a year, the source said.

If an extension is passed the United States would avoid reverting to 1949 “permanent law” and a potential spike in the retail price of milk to as much as $8 a gallon in 2013.

The Senate passed its new five-year farm bill in June, and the House Agriculture Committee followed with a version in July.

But the House bill, with large cuts in food stamp funding for lower-income Americans, has never been brought to a vote by the full House. The Senate and House remain far apart on the issues of food stamps and crop subsidies.

Many estimate that U.S. retail milk prices could rise sharply in 2013 – to some $6 to $8 per gallon from the current level of about $3.53 – if the government reverts to 1949 statutes that would require USDA to buy and store dairy products at inflated prices.

This makes absolutely no sense to me. Why is the USDA storing dairy? Why are we paying farmers to not grow shit? Why are we paying ConAgra and others billions in subsidies?

Aren’t wheat and corn and grains going to be at all time highs this year? As well as meat prices? Why are we subsidizing them?

59 replies
  1. 1
    Or something like that.Suffern Ace says:

    Will we get government cheese again? I thought we stopped the buying and storing part 39 years ago. I didn’t know the government still had the facilities.

  2. 2
    Maude says:

    It will cost you an arm and a leg to get a steak.
    The USDA would have to in the future store the dairy.
    Anything to obstruct Obama.

  3. 3
    Baud says:

    Agricultural policy is some of the most twisted and arcane stuff the federal government does. The basic goal is to stabilize prices for farmers and consumers. I’ll let people smarter than me try to explain the details.

  4. 4
    magurakurin says:

    I more or less lived on “Ronald Reagan Rat Bait” for a year back in 1985 when I was a member of the working poor. Full time job as a line cook at minimum wage left me destitute enough to qualify for “commodities.” Even with meals at work, the end of the month usually left me eating rice, beans and cheese that I had picked up from the government office. Now, the poor fuckers don’t even have that. damn. The cheese was pretty damn good, too. Wisconsin chedder.

  5. 5
    jharp says:

    “Why are we paying farmers to not grow shit?”

    We pay farmers to not grow shit to prevent every square inch of farmland being plowed and exploited so badly that it literally gets “used up”.

    Farmers have to pay tax on the land and it’s a way to “save some land for future use”.

  6. 6
    PeakVT says:

    Why is the USDA storing dairy?

    It’s not, as far as I know, but for some reason the underlying Ag law hasn’t been changed, just repeatedly overridden temporarily, much like the doc fix and AMT patch. I think failing to permanently fix (and it is a failure) all of those laws gives legislators a chance to hit up a certain set of donors on an annual basis.

  7. 7
    Evolving Deep Southerner says:

    Wasn’t propping up our noble, noble farmers one of the main ideas behind evil, evil food stamps?

    Fuck a fucking farmer in the ass. Even the small-timers brag about how they mopped up at tax time, and in the next breath they’ll curse the “free riders.”

    ETA: And Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Cougar Mellencamp and all the rest who played at Farm Aid over the years? Fuck all them, too.

  8. 8
    Calouste says:

    How fucked up is your government system if it keeps passing the same temporary fix for 63 years without ever making it permanent?

  9. 9
    PeakVT says:

    Halp! I iz eated by moderashun!

  10. 10
    General Stuck says:

    I switched to Nido milk from Mexico. Where the cows are cheap, and the government cheaper still.

  11. 11
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    Long answer: There are good reasons for the government to be involved in farming and land use, but it’s complicated.

    Short answer: Watch The Dust Bowl.



  12. 12
    Raven says:

    @Evolving Deep Southerner: Where ya bean frijole?

  13. 13
    MattR says:

    Why these policies were initially implemented and why they exist in their current form are two totally different questions. The short answer to the first is that we want to do our best to guarantee our country an adequate food supply that is not strictly bound by the rules of supply and demand. As for the second part, the combination of lobbying and campaign contributions have unsurprisingly warped the legislation from its initial purpose.

  14. 14
    Evolving Deep Southerner says:


    The way they got farm-state versions of what were then “conservative” Congresscritters to vote for it was by using the “saving the noble farmer” dodge.

    Stark proof, then, that the conservatives are considerably more evil than they used to be? Today’s GOP “base” would say “Fuck a fucking farmer in the ass” quicker than I would if helping farmers would also mean helping minorities. They have decided, by God, work or starve. And if a few farmers and poor white people should starve, well, gotta remove a little healthy tissue to remove the cancer sometimes.

  15. 15
    Maude says:

    The 1800s Homestead Act cause some of the problems. WWI required a lot of wheat and the prairie land was turned into crop land at a great rate.
    The method of plowing and over grazing were also causes. FDR started the ball rolling to get things straightened out.
    The new satellite going up in February will be able to gauge water use in the states. That’s so they can tell about what’s going on with irrigation.

  16. 16
    Evolving Deep Southerner says:

    @Raven: Just a low-key holiday here, brother. I trust this finds you and yours well.

  17. 17
    Raven says:

    @Evolving Deep Southerner: Yea mon, three days in Virginia and back to the classic city. Best to ya.

  18. 18
    Rosie Outlook says:

    @magurakurin: My grandmother used to get that cheese. It was excellent.

  19. 19
    Narcissus says:

    @MattR: This is basically it. Just because something looks byzantine and arcane doesn’t mean there isn’t a logical purpose to it. This is why Keynesian economics are simultaneously absolutely necessary for a modernized industrial society and also the easiest topic to demonize and demagogue into dysfunction.

  20. 20
    Comrade Jake says:



  21. 21
    Robin G. says:

    @I’mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet: Seconded. Dust Bowl was awesome.

  22. 22
    Nutella says:

    Aren’t wheat and corn and grains going to be at all time highs this year? As well as meat prices? Why are we subsidizing them?

    Same reason we subsidize the very profitable and environmentally irresponsible oil industry: They have paid off a lot of congressmen over the years.


  23. 23
    JenJen says:

    @I’mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet: Bingo. And what an amazing and downright terrifying documentary.

  24. 24
    rikyrah says:

    the GOP are evil.

    once you get that….all other things fall into place

  25. 25
    mdblanche says:

    @Evolving Deep Southerner:

    Major Major’s father was a sober God-fearing man whose idea of a good joke was to lie about his age. He was a longlimbed farmer, a God-fearing, freedom-loving, law-abiding rugged individualist who held that federal aid to anyone but farmers was creeping socialism. He advocated thrift and hard work and disapproved of loose women who turned him down. His specialty was alfalfa, and he made a good thing out of not growing any. The government paid him well for every bushel of alfalfa he did not grow. The more alfalfa he did not grow, the more money the government gave him, and he spent every penny he didn’t earn on new land to increase the amount of alfalfa he did not produce. Major Major’s father worked without rest at not growing alfalfa. On long winter evenings he remained indoors and did not mend harness, and he sprang out of bed at the crack of noon every day just to make certain that the chores would not be done. He invested in land wisely and soon was not growing more alfalfa than any other man in the county. Neighbors sought him out for advice on all subjects, for he had made much money and was therefore wise. “As ye sow, so shall ye reap,” he counseled one and all, and everyone said, “Amen.”

  26. 26
    mainmati says:

    @Maude: Yes, that’s right. The Midwest and prairie states weren’t meant to support industrial farming indefinitely. In fact, industrial farming is totally unsustainable anywhere. Climate change will just make these practices more unsustainable quicker.

    But government subsidies to not plow land are meant to allow the land to recover because humans are too stupid to know what is in their own interest, sadly.

  27. 27
    Evolving Deep Southerner says:

    @mdblanche: Nice! Thank you for that. It’s been a long time since I read that book. Too long.

  28. 28
    bcinaz says:

    So the red states will now reap the whirlwind. Voting entirely against their own economic interests, yet will just blame it on PBO because you know…socialism (she said sarcastically; thinking about the government buying and storing MILK).

  29. 29
    Lojasmo says:

    I guess now I won’t feel so stupid for buying grass fed beef for $8/Lb/

    ETA and pastured milk for $8/gallon

  30. 30
    b-psycho says:

    Why are we subsidizing them?

    Because gov’t is owned by big business, including big ag. And contrary to their portrayal, they hate market competition.

  31. 31
    tofubo says:

    “Why is the USDA storing dairy? Why are we paying farmers to not grow shit? Why are we paying ConAgra and others billions in subsidies?

    Aren’t wheat and corn and grains going to be at all time highs this year? As well as meat prices? Why are we subsidizing them?”

    if you ask the same question of many of the representatives and senators from both parties

    the answer of “someone paid me more money to vote the other way” is never the answer they give, even tho that’s the only answer that fits with the voting record

    and it’s not just the farm bill, it’s f.i.s.a. and war supplimentals, austerity pills and patriot acts, the public being punished to pay for servicing the cost of incarceration, families being ripped apart cus mommy has a self-medication issue or daddy is just carrying out the maxim of the free enterprise system: see a demand, bring a supply

    the prison industial complex ?? the pharmaceutical industrial complex ?? the military industrial congressional complex ??

    gets the money outta politikkin

  32. 32
    Triassic Sands says:

    Sure, the GOP hates Obama, but they’ve hated poor people a lot longer. Clearly, unless we can punish poor people by cutting SNAP, we’ll never be able to make this country truly safe for the ultra-wealthy.

    I keep thinking back to a recent Diane Rehm Show appearance by Stephen Moore (Club for Growth; WSJ Editorial Page), who brought nothing to the discussion but a bunch of made up “facts” and his usual vile ideological fervor. His most memorable comment was when he expressed regret that people receiving food stamps today no longer feel “humiliated” to do so. Fortunately, there was a very knowledgeable person on with Moore, who treated him with barely concealed contempt, and crushed him with actual facts.

    If only people who are unemployed or disabled could be made to feel more humiliation, we’d be so much better off as a country.

    The low point of that particular DR Show came when Moore claimed to have been in line in the supermarket — just that week — when a man trying to buy crab legs with food stamps was challenged by the checker, who claimed he wasn’t allowed to buy crab legs with food stamps. The story was such a cliche, and so strangely convenient, that I doubt anyone with an ounce of intelligence believed a word of it, but the fact that Moore had the gall to tell such an incredibly self-serving story was truly amazing.

    (Note: yes, the man is allowed to buy crab legs with food stamps, and while that may not be the best use of such funds, assuming there was any such man, the checker has no say in the matter. Foods and products that are disallowed are denied automatically, as any checker would know, and despite having been in countless grocery store lines over the past decades, I’ve never once heard anything remotely resembling Moore’s cautionary tale (aka totally made-up lie). But amazingly, it took place, according to Moore, the very week he was to appear on the DR Show to discuss food stamps and food security.

    I sent an email to the show strongly objecting to their inviting a POS like Moore on to discuss a serious topic armed only with ideologically-based fantasies and outright lies.

  33. 33
    Ruckus says:

    Why are we subsidizing them?
    Easy answer – republicans
    Less easy – votes in farm states (mostly rethug?)
    Stated answer – other wise food prices would swing much more that they do.
    Real answer – rich bastards make more money

  34. 34
    Ron says:

    @Lojasmo: grass fed for $8/lb? wow. that’s a freaking steal. (well, I guess it depends on the cut of beef you’re buying) Hell, at the local supermarket here, ordinary strip steak is $8/lb or maybe more.

  35. 35
    Thor Heyerdahl says:

    Maybe that’ll keep some of the milk on the shelves at the Bellingham, WA Costco…Canucks won’t find it any cheaper than at home in Vancouver.

  36. 36
    Fwiffo says:

    In 1918, congress wanted to provide financial support to post-war England. They also wanted to prop up Nevada silver miners who had been hit by a collapse in silver prices caused by their success in digging up too much silver. Chocolate and peanut butter came together and The Pittman act was passed.

    The law mandated that 270 million new silver dollars be minted. But first we had to melt down 270 million existing silver dollars that were just sitting around unused. You can see how this was the obvious and efficient solution to both problems.

  37. 37
    Yutsano says:

    @Thor Heyerdahl: I have a sneaking suspicion milk prices will stabilise before it gets too bad. The farm bill actually is not far from reconciliation and/or can be redone in the new Congress without too much effort.

    We can discuss trade purchases though. Milk for a few bottles of Tylenol 3 for starters.

    (You still need to explain the milk in bags thing to me though. My ex never could get the concept of plastic jugs.)

  38. 38
    Thor Heyerdahl says:

    @Yutsano: I’m from Alberta originally and grew up with plastic gallon (4 L) jugs, and still can’t get the milk in bags thing since I moved to Toronto. Canadian regionalism at its finest – well that and white margarine in Quebec.

  39. 39
    jayackroyd says:

    Two Senators per state.

  40. 40
    Snarla says:

    An excellent time for Americans to cut back on or eliminate dairy. Better for our overall health, and so much better for the environment. Someday maybe the only cows we’ll see will be meandering across the prairie, grazing.

  41. 41
    steveday says:

    Yet another reason to plant a garden.
    And, milk is for infants, be they cub, calf, or human.@Snarla:

  42. 42
    chopper says:


    shrug. there’s nothing wrong with drinking milk. long as you can tolerate it.

    a nice bottle of fresh grass-fed is a wonder to behold. and goddamn, you’re not asking me to cook without butter, are you?

  43. 43
    Ron says:

    @Snarla: Oh lord, a vegan preacher. You can take my beef and dairy away from me when you pry it from my cold dead hands.

  44. 44
    Higgs Boson says:

    @Evolving Deep Southerner:

    How much do you wanna bet that dairy milk substitutes (soy, almond, rice, sun flower, coconut, etc.) will also spike in price.

    Just because.

    Fuck the farmers? Indeed; it’s fuck *us*.

    Just sayin’.

  45. 45

    dairy is a scam. no adult mammal drinks it in nature, esp. from another species. every glass you take in is also seriously contaminated, with bugs and pesticides being the least of the offenders. google “milk somatic cell count” if you dare.

    it’s also high calorie, despite pervasive dairy industry propaganda to convince us otherwise.

    any time you have to amend your endorsement of a foodstuff with, “long as you can tolerate it” that might be a sign.

    anyway, hasn’t anyone mentioned a prime reason for the continued ag supports: Iowa and NH. Switch to a 50-state primary and suddenly there’s a lot less reason to pander to agribusiness.

  46. 46
    wonkie says:

    Conservatives like to say tht if you give people a hand out, they will become dependent ans regard the handout as ann entitltement. This is the one thing they are right about and you can see this entitlted attitude in eery red state or in regions of red states.

    Howeer, sneering at red staters for their dishonesty and hypocrisy is one thing; opposing the policies they feel entitlted to is another.

    The whole farm subsidy thing is very complicagted but some of it is good and I don’t just mean the food stamp part. Saving small farmers is real a real benefit. PReventing overuse of land or bad farming opractices is another benefit.

    There’s a lot of bullshit too like subsiding profitable businesses that doen’t really need subsidies or subsidizing businesses that possilby shouldn’t exist at all like sugar cane and hog corn.

    BOttom liine to me: the Rethugs cannot be trusted to do anything except fuck thisngs up for short term partisan reasons so we are better off with the farm legislation we have had previoulsy to any the thugs will come up with.

  47. 47
    Nicole says:

    Entertaining article on the rapid rise of lactose tolerance in certain populations of humans and some of the guesses as to why it conferred such an evolutionary advantage. Short summary- as agriculture became the norm, lactose tolerance conferred an extreme advantage, but no one is quite sure why:


    I, for one, am grateful to have been one of those genetic lottery winners. Milk is delicious.

  48. 48
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @Hillary Rettig: Um, you realize you could replace “dairy” with “wheat” or “potatoes” in your post and it would be just as “true”, right?

    Humans have lived off milk from other mammals for thousands of years. It’s no less a “scam” than any other type of farming you could choose.

    Industrial farming has lots of well-known issues. Non-industrial farming to feed 7B people has lots issues as well.

    There are many good reasons, other than paying off corporate ag, to have farm price supports and the like. Watch The Dust Bowl if you haven’t already – you won’t regret it.

    My $0.02.


  49. 49
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @I’mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet: less more



  50. 50
    Davis X. Machina says:


    So the red states will now reap the whirlwind.

    Blue states too. Just not big, important, ones.

  51. 51
    chopper says:

    @Hillary Rettig:

    no other adult mammal wears clothes or cooks its food either.

  52. 52
    J R in WV says:

    Years ago we kept a wonderful dairy cow, named Molly. Molly was from a great strain of dairy cows, a white beauty with big black spots. She made enough milk to nourish her calf, feed the hog, make all the cheese and butter and yogurt we could use, sell to the neighbors, and still we had to pourw some out that soured on us.

    We usually milked her once a day, in the morning, while it was still cool, with a sterilized stainless bucket to milk into, and a big bucket of warm water to wash her udder and teats. She liked that part. She stood still for milking because there was a bucket of sweet feed for her best meal of the day, along with some sweet hay.

    You would lean against her rear haunch to do your work, because every so often she would pick up a rear foot, and then put it down in the bucket of fresh milk – by leaning against her, you could feel her muscles tense, and sweep the bucket of milk out of danger.

    Fresh milk has cream in it, and a gallon jar of Molly Milk would provide between a pint and a quart of creamy looking cream. That was for coffee, and cereal, and cooking, and butter. But then I finished working to build the farm, and a degree, and got a career that eventually involved long hours.

    So we didn’t do a cow anymore, and that is sad. Now that I’m retired, I could keep a cow, but then I couldn’t travel, which is our retirement hobby. But there is a local dairy that uses glass bottles to vend organic milk and cream, which is pretty close.

    There was a groundswell grassroots movement to keep a mega-dairy farm out of the very rural area we spend winters in in SE Arizona. Their plan was to have 15,000 cows on 120 acres of land, of which 7,500 would be milking and the others would be heifers, unbred young female cows, growing up to be milkers to replace the used up milkers. [Just like workers with repetitive motion injuries!]

    They also had about 3,000 acres to grow the food for the cattle, and promised that the manure they were going to spread on that cropland wouldn’t smell for miles downwind, that a miracle would prevent a fly problem from manure lagoons, and that those lagoons wouldn’t pollute the groundwater.

    Being farmers, no one believed a word of any of that.

    You can smell a mega dairy for miles, and you can’t stand to be outside living in the fumes. Just driving by requires the space-capsule setting on the car’s ventilation controls. You can’t do it with the windows down.

    So there’s the difference between old-fashioned family farming and industrial farming. I can’t think it produces healthy cows, and I can’t imagine drinking that milk unpasteurized.

  53. 53
    chopper says:


    indeed. I’d also say having toast is great if you can tolerate it. don’t mean there’s something wrong with bread. shit, some kids up and croak if they even smell a fuckin peanut.

  54. 54
    Yutsano says:


    Someday maybe the only cows we’ll see will be meandering across the prairie, grazing.

    No. They will go extinct. Domestic cattle are fundamentally incapable of feeding themselves without human intervention. They are also bred out of their natural habitat (cattle originated in eastern Asia) so having them “meander across the prairie” is introducing an invasive species. Romanticising their freedom is just offencive. Knock it off.

  55. 55
    WaterGirl says:

    @J R in WV: Thank you for the lovely story in the first few paragraphs. I was transported to a different world while i was reading it.

  56. 56
    Marshall says:

    Agricultural policies are strange just about everywhere. Search on “butter mountain” for an example.

  57. 57
    sherparick says:

    Short answer: The United States Senate.
    Slightly longer answer: U.S. Government system gives agriculture and agricultural insterests extra votes, particularly the Senate, and the House Republican Caucus.


    Kansas for instance has two Republican Senators and 4 house members, all who want to vote for this montrosity of a farm subsidy bll, but who want to cut SNAP, WIC, Meals on Wheels, and school lunches because of the “moral hazard” that poor and working class people might not work so hard unless they knew they and their children could start starving. .

  58. 58
    Evolving Deep Southerner says:

    @Hillary Rettig:

    no adult mammal drinks it in nature, esp. from another species.

    Hillary, Hillary. You know good and well that if dogs had opposeable thumbs they’d be milking cats.

  59. 59
    Procopius says:

    @wonkie: Yes, it is complicated. My grandfather was a farmer. I was a kid when the Ever Normal Granary law was being debated in the late 40s. Agricultural prices had always been very volatile. You have the weather, for one thing, so farmers may plant a lot of soybeans but the rain comes at the wrong time so the crop is poor and demand is high and the price goes up. So even more farmers plant soybeans, and the weather is perfect and the crop is huge and the price is so low everybody goes broke because it cost them more to grow the soybeans than they can sell them for, except for a few guys who got their beans to market before the price adjusted.

    I hate the Austrian economists because I once saw a video of one of them saying the depression of 1921 proved that governments should never intervene because the depression righted itself in a year. My father (an accountant, because farm work was too hard) told me about the 1920s, when the agricultural sector was in fact in a depression the whole decade, followed by an even further drop in 1929.

    Anyway, I was interested by the explanation of price supports as a conservation measure. There were also payments for planting trees as windbreaks so you wouldn’t have the winds blowing uninterrupted across the vast plains. The big agricompanies started cutting them down in the 1960s to allow their machinery to move unimpeded. But the price supports and subsidies were sold to the larger public partly as a way to stabilize prices, those received by farmers but also those paid by consumers. It used to be that people felt bad seeing their neighbors foreclosed on and their belongings sold at auction.

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