Do We Really Need That? Department of Agriculture

I talk to people almost on a daily basis, who just take it for granted that the government does what it does because it would not be convenient or profitable for that task, whatever that task is, to be done privately. Even small government types believe that much of our government is necessary and would not be able to be done privately. They might think that the government could spend less, do less of a particular task, but the thought of completely eliminating government programs does not cross the minds of many people very often.

The truth is nobody really knows how many government agencies there are in the US government. Some estimate that there are over 2000 different agencies, but the government disagrees with itself about what constitutes an agency so the true number may never be counted. It would take a very long time indeed to go through every agency to determine its value and necessity. There are 15 federal departments. I think I’ll go through them one at a time to see if we really need them. I’m sure we need some of them and not others, some may be partially necessary, but who knows. I’ll start with the Department of Agriculture and work my way down.

According to the Department of Agriculture, the reason for their existence is for the following:

Founded by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, when more than half of the Nation’s population lived and worked on farms, USDA’s role has evolved with the economy.  Today, the country looks to rural America to not only provide food and fiber, but also for crucial emerging economic opportunities in renewable energy, broadband and recreation.  People in rural areas operate in a technologically advanced, rapidly diversifying, and highly competitive business environment driven by increasingly sophisticated consumers.  To assist the country in addressing today’s challenges, USDA will: Assist rural communities to create prosperity so they are self-sustaining, re-populating, and economically thriving; Ensure our national forests and private working lands are conserved, restored, and made more resilient to climate change, while enhancing our water resources; Help America promote sustainable agricultural production and biotechnology exports as America works to increase food security; Ensure that all of America’s children have access to safe, nutritious, and balanced meals.

Let’s go through these goals one at a time. This department was founded at a time when over half the population were farmers, today only 2% of the people own farms and they employ about 15% of the workforce. It would seem to me that if you make the argument in 1862 that your department is necessary because there are so many farmers that it would stand to reason that as the number of farmers diminished that the Department of Agriculture should diminish in a similar fashion. Apparently that does not stand to reason because the Department of Agriculture employs well over 100,000 people and spends about $150 Billion dollars a year.

It is also of some interest to note that we as Americans look to the dwellers of our rural parts of the country to provide our renewable energy, broadband internet connection, and our recreation. I was unaware that farmers grew broadband internet connections as crops. I was also under the false assumption that I was in charge of my own recreation, but thank you, Department of Agriculture, for correcting me. I now understand that my recreation and internet connection are now provided by peoples of the backwoods. If by renewable energy, the Department of Agriculture means ethanol, I would just say that nobody, and I mean nobody but the boondogglers duping the government into a free handout because of the “renewable” label, was looking for that.

“People in rural areas operate in a technologically advanced, rapidly diversifying, and highly competitive business environment driven by increasingly sophisticated consumers.” Really? Rural areas are technologically advanced? This sentence just makes no sense. Rural generally means country, or unsophisticated. By nature, rural is not “rapidly diversifying”. If there is a “highly competitive business environment”, then it would no longer be rural. If this is how the Department of Agriculture describes rural, I wonder how they would describe urban? Jet packs and hover boards? But I digress.

Now we start to get into the meat of the issue, “To assist the country in addressing today’s challenges, USDA will: Assist rural communities to create prosperity so they are self-sustaining, re-populating, and economically thriving”. So the Department of Agriculture will give money to farmers so that they will become self-sustaining. Does this sound like an oxy-moron to anyone else? How can you pay someone to be self-sustaining? Government assistance with re-populating what? I hope they are not paying farmers to have sex in order to make more farmers. It can’t be re-populating crops, the farmers were doing that before 1862, but don’t quote me on that. If a business is economically thriving, do they really need assistance? I would say, based on its own criteria, that this first strategic goal has been a failure.

The second strategic goal says, “Ensure our national forests and private working lands are conserved, restored, and made more resilient to climate change, while enhancing our water resources”. Again, this seems to be setting very non-goalish goals. In the area of conserving land, they have been very successful, in 1903 there were about 60 million acres under government control, today there are over 193 million acres under government control. Even back then many people thought that this could be done better privately, but the government wanted this land as a way to make money through permitting and grazing fees, and mineral rights. It was hoped that the forestry service would be self-sustaining one day. It is still not. I cannot say one way or the other if our water supply is more watery or not, but I would tend to doubt it. Making every tree climate change resilient is absurd on its face. This strategic goal has been a partial failure, but the successful part, gaining more land, is success in the wrong direction.

Moving on, “Help America promote sustainable agricultural production and biotechnology exports as America works to increase food security”. This is a situation that does not need to be fixed. America has been “food secure” since the first thanksgiving. We don’t need a government agency for that. As far as biotechnology exports, US corn is being shut out of the European Union because of the ethanol subsidies that the government gives them to produce a fuel that is the worst fuel possible for cars. Another epic failure.

The last strategic goal of the Department of Agriculture is, “Ensure that all of America’s children have access to safe, nutritious, and balanced meals.” This is another one of those non-goalish goals. If all else fails, invoke “the children”. Let’s forget that 16 million kids don’t have regular access to safe, nutritious, and balanced meals. You can’t blame the Department of Agriculture for that. Our farmers make plenty of food. We not only feed America, we feed much of the world. This is another fail.

So let’s sum up then, shall we? This department has failed either epically or partially in every one of its strategic goals. I believe that the best thing we could do to “assist the country in addressing today’s challenges”, would be to eliminate the Department of Agriculture. The best way to conserve federal land would be to transfer it to private ownership. The best thing for our food would be to stop paying farmers to not grow it and to stop all ethanol subsidies. That is horrible gas and the rest of the world hates us for making it. This is in no way a reflection of rural people and farmers. Farmers are the backbone of this country. They make the food that feeds us and the rest of the world. My grandfather was among other things a farmer, and a finer man I have never met. When he farmed, he lived a country life. Slow paced, hard working, uncomplicated life that city dwellers just can’t understand. The best thing our government can do for our farmers is to get out of their way. One down, 14 to go.

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