Let them grow grapes? That, apparently, is the solution the Dallas Morning News offers for Texas cotton farmers who they would put out of the cotton business by swiftly caving in to the recent World Trade Organization's ruling favoring Brazil's claim that the U.S. cotton program is unfair.
“Brazil did the United States a massive favor,” an editorialist writes, “by suing it in the World Trade Organization to halt its subsidization of U.S. cotton growers.”
The writer, apparently who went to the same journalism school as his counterparts at the New York Times, The Wall Street journal and other papers that take advantage of every opportunity to slam any government program that actually benefits farmers, claims government payments are “immoral.” He uses the same tired old argument that U.S. subsidies distort world prices and prevent poor cotton farmers in West Africa and South America from making a living.
I've heard that dozens of times and still fail to get the connection. A 10-acre cotton patch in Mali bears about as much resemblance to today's High Plains cotton farms as modern agriculture relates to subsistence farmers of a century ago.
The writer also makes the ridiculous claim that doing away with our cotton program would make developing nations more competitive and eager to provide access to their markets. He lays the blame for failure of the last attempt at GATT negotiations at the feet of developed nations and their refusal to alter subsidies. Fact is, trade experts say, developing countries' intractable stance against allowing greater access to their markets provided the barriers to negotiations.
It appears that foreign governments, the WTO and editorial writers prefer to have U.S. farmers struggle to make a living rather than to provide a safety net to help keep them solvent. Apparently, some would scrap the U.S. agricultural production plant and move it overseas so that developing nations could feed and clothe us. They've already done that with textile manufacturing, why not fiber production? And then why not grains and vegetables?
The Dallas editorial writer suggests that instead of subsidies, the government make payments to “conserve farmland, which wouldn't distort the free market… Conserve it for what? Picnics? Bird watching? What good is farmland that no one can afford to farm?
He does suggest that Texas cotton farmers adapt. “To further cushion the blow, Congress should help growers to make the transition to crops that don't require subsidies to be competitive. Even in the Panhandle where cotton is king, farmers have diversified into grapes and other cash crops.”
Let's see now, if we abandon the cotton business that leaves roughly 5 million to 6 million acres to grow grapes. Can we convert cotton strippers into grape harvesters? And can we turn all those cotton gins into wineries?
And what are the grape farmers in California and New York going to say when Texas growers put pressure on their markets and the price of a vintage wine drops to the cost of a bottle of Ripple? And who is going to drink all that wine? Perhaps we could swap with Brazil for cotton shirts to wear while bird watching on acres we've turned into sanctuaries.
And then there are the French. Oh, never mind about them. Let them eat cotton.
The editorial, in addition to bringing my blood to the boiling point, also points out how little understanding most urban newspapers have for modern agriculture and for modern farmers. For instance, expanding grape acreage in the High Plains or increasing production of vegetables or any other crop that offers a possibility of profit, puts pressure on farmers somewhere else, if not West Africa then Mexico, California, Florida, or the Rio Grande Valley.
It's simply a cause and effect formula. Produce more in one place and demand suffers somewhere else. It makes sense that our government's first obligation is to protect its own farmers and citizens, guarantee an ample supply of food and fiber to meet the needs of U.S. citizens and then offer the rest for sale overseas. And if we fall short, buy from reliable suppliers.
In a trade environment rife with tariffs, currency inequities, unfair labor and horrendous environmental abuses, it makes sense for the U.S. government to do what is necessary to assure its citizens a safe, affordably supply of food and fiber.
Taxpayers get a bargain from the pittance they pay to keep farmers in business.
And Texas farmers deserve more from the public media than an admonition to grow grapes.