Monday, July 14, 2008

Take my newspaper editorial Rorschach test

Two newspaper editorials from two different parts of the country, published within days of one another, present two diametrically opposing views of a controversial proposal to open more Conservation Reserve Program acreage to cattle grazing and hay cultivation. Readers can decide which one makes more sense. And, in fact, this might serve as an ideological Rorschach test of sorts, separating libertarians from liberals, the mentally healthy from the . . . . well . . . maybe I should leave it at that.

The New York Times' July 12 editorial pretty accurately reflects the view from the nation’s ideological and geographical fringes, expressing “sympathy” for farmers who want to bend CRP rules during a mounting food crisis but arguing, along with greens, that “the potential environmental damage caused by taking these lands out of conservation is far too great.”

These aren't national park lands being plowed under, mind you, but established farms that went dormant after their owners discovered (much to their amazement, no doubt) that Uncle Sam pays farmers not to farm. Returning these acres to productive uses might help ease some of the human hardship being caused by federal meddling in energy markets, the Times concedes (one wonders where the paper stood on ethanol mandates before the repercussions became clear). But the well being of deer and sage grouse must take precedent.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal, in contrast, seems to me to hit the heifer on the head when it calls CRP a federal farm "boondoggle,” although that may be an understatement. If environmentalists are correct in arguing that these are mostly "marginal" croplands, which will do little good in alleviating the food (and livestock feed) crisis, asks the editorial, "why are taxpayers paying (farmers) $1.8 billion per year -- that's billion with a "b" -- to keep them out of production?" It's an excellent question.

"The Agriculture Department might as well pay Wal-Mart not to grow soybeans in their parking lots," quips the Review-Journal. "Shhh . . . better not give them any more ideas."

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