Sushi aid in $1 trillion agriculture bill angers watchdogs

Good Politics

Good politics may make for bad, expensive policy, Smith said.

Crop insurance and price-support plans hold the most risk for bigger federal spending, Smith said. Along with revenue guarantees for peanuts and cotton, the bill includes the catfish provision as well as the consideration of catastrophic-loss plans for poultry and swine and regular policies for alfalfa and sugarcane.

Temperate japonica rice used in sushi would be added as a crop eligible for price supports. The new program is justified because direct payments to rice farmers would be eliminated in the bill, said Charley Mathews Jr., who raises 600 acres of the rice variety near Marysville, California, about 40 miles north of Sacramento.

Practical Purpose

Programs that may look like largesse in Washington have practical purposes at the farm level, he said. Federal rice payments are based on futures traded in Chicago for varieties grown in the Mississippi River Delta region, a very different market from California’s where most sushi rice is grown, he said.

Without adequate federal backing, “I don’t get financing from my bank” for rice that’s the only crop suitable for his soil, said Mathews, 46. “I get one chance to plant each year, which isn’t like a factory making widgets. I need to manage my risk.”

For catfish, higher feed costs have made the industry’s profitability a concern, said Ben Pentecost, president of the Catfish Farmers of America, an Indianola, Mississippi-based trade group. “Catfish farmers, like other livestock producers, face significant input costs,” Pentecost said in an e-mail. The proposed program will help catfish farmers reduce their risks, he said.

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