THE father of Major Major, a character in Catch 22, a novel by Joseph Heller, makes a good living not growing alfalfa. “The more alfalfa he did not grow, the more money the government gave him, and he spent every penny he didn’t earn on new land to increase the amount of alfalfa he did not produce.” Each day, Mr Major “sprang out of bed at the crack of noon… just to make certain that the chores would not be done.”
To this day, to be treated as a farmer in America doesn’t necessarily require you to grow any crops. According to the Government Accountability Office, between 2007 and 2011 Uncle Sam paid some $3m in subsidies to 2,300 farms where no crop of any sort was grown. Between 2008 and 2012, $10.6m was paid to farmers who had been dead for over a year. Such payments explain why Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, is promoting a rule to attempt to crack down on payments to non-farming folk. But with crop prices now falling, taxpayers are braced to be fleeced again.
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