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Farm bill fixes fall short

We’ve taken some heat for our editorial calling for a major overhaul of the federal farm bill.

Our Letter Best selection for last Sunday’s Tri-City Forum was a well-written example of an opposing view.

As Chris Voight of the Washington State Potato Commission and other readers pointed out, there’s a lot of good buried in the bill. Especially since this year’s version finally gets around to adding something for speciality crops instead of channeling all the spoils to a few big commodities.

The total figure devoted to fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops — the heart of Washington’s agricultural economy — is around $3 billion.

These days, when farmland is continually concentrated in fewer hands, does it make sense to support the farming industry in ways that newspapers, for instance, would never get?

That’s a bigger question, and the answer is debatable, but if the government is going to channel money into agriculture, it ought to strengthen the industry or provide some public benefit. Or save a small business from disaster.

The money for special crops fits that criteria — helping to develop new markets and more efficient ways to grow and harvest crops. That makes sense in a way that writing subsidy checks to wealthy growers does not.

We agree that this year’s farm bill includes important improvements over the previous version and that it includes provisions that make sense.

But there’s still too much wrong with it. The nation’s farm policy is a hobbled together monster that’s more reflective of the lobbying power of various special interests than the needs of the nation.

If we end up with an improved farm bill, that’s better than nothing. But it’s not enough.