With farm issues gaining momentum in the Senate, Texas Sens. Kay Hutchison and John Cornyn will soon get the rare chance to reverse decades of bad agriculture policies.
By joining with reformers such as Sens. Dick Lugar and Frank Lautenberg when the Senate takes up a farm bill next week, the Texans can create saner priorities.
The proposal from Mr. Lugar, of Indiana, and Mr. Lautenberg, of New Jersey, would gradually eliminate crop subsidies to all farmers. The plan also would reinvest some of the savings into land-conservation incentives and into programs that help small farms sell products locally and grow alternative energy sources.
This alternative presents a refreshing contrast to the business-as-usual plan the Senate Agriculture Committee passed. It would maintain crop payments to farmers including those who earn up to a million bucks keep subsidies focused on big crops such as corn and wheat, and do too little to promote land conservation and alternative energies.
Texas' senators undoubtedly are hearing from big farm interests that favor the Agriculture Committee's bill. But more Texas farmers would benefit from the Lugar-Lautenberg bill.
For example, their proposal would replace subsidies for crops such as corn and wheat with an insurance program for all crops. The shift would lead to most Texas farmers with crop insurance paying much less for their insurance. While we don't like everything about this feature, farmers need some guarantee against the vagaries of nature and other risks. This would do it, and at a cheaper cost to taxpayers. What's more, a broader pool of Texas farmers would benefit.
Family farmers in East Texas, the Valley and elsewhere would benefit in another way, too. The reform bill would finance a program to help them sell their fruits and vegetables directly to schools in cities such as Dallas and San Antonio.
Also, the numerous Texas companies developing alternatives to corn-based ethanol stand to gain because the proposal invests substantially in such research. Companies in Dallas and elsewhere are hotly pursuing alternatives such as switchgrasses.
Finally, Panhandle farmers wondering how much longer the Ogallala Aquifer will supply water for their land will like that the bill gives incentives to turn farmland into grasslands. The latter can be used for grazing or hunting instead of corn, whose thirst for water takes a toll on the Ogallala.
Ms. Hutchison and Mr. Cornyn know that the current system has problems, but they're leery of the counter-proposal. We hope they move away from supporting the business-as-usual plan to one that creates a new day for farmers. Chances like this don't come around often.
—The Dallas Morning News