Support markets for US farmers

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Government causes the problems, then raids treasury for fixes.

TIMES ARE TOUGH on America's farms these days and it's not all due to President Trump's ill-advised trade war with China, though losing agriculture's biggest market for selling grain clearly has made matters worse.

The Trump administration has responded with multi-billion dollar bailouts, but surveys have shown farmers overwhelmingly would rather have stable markets than become dependent on government handouts. The overriding concern is obvious: China has moved on to other countries - notably Brazil - to buy the agricultural products it needs, so the disturbing question is whether American crops are now permanently in China's rear-view mirror.

The lesson is this: When government goes hip-deep with policies that damage and distort markets, the outcome is usually bad.

WHICH BRINGS US to proposals being put forth by legislators in Wisconsin, intended to improve conditions on state farms.

Undeniably, Wisconsin farmers are hurting. The statistics are alarming.

• Between 2012 and 2017 the number of farms in Wisconsin dropped by more than 7%, more than double the national average.

• Total farm acreage shrank by 2% during the same period.

• The average age for a Wisconsin farmer is 56.

• Among farmers, those age 55 to 74 are more than double those age 25 to 44.

The underlying problem is that the cost of doing business - especially getting started - in farming is prohibitive while government meddling, resulting market uncertainties and commodity price volatility make the field prohibitive, especially for younger people.

SO COUNT US as dubious about politicians' ability to materially change farm conditions by tinkering around the edges with taxpayer dollars. Whether it's President Trump throwing around taxpayer dollars to shore up damage done by tariff wars or Wisconsin legislators sprinkling public money like pixie dust, any gain is merely temporary and contributes very little to overall sustainability.

Philosophically, there's also the issue of government stepping in to pick winners and losers in the economy. For example, retail businesses all over the country are struggling, too - think: Elder Beerman or Shopko - with hundreds of thousands of employees losing jobs. The obvious and fair question is this: Why should government favor some segments of the economy over others?

The American farmer is incredibly efficient and capable of competing successfully in an open and fair global marketplace. Instead, stupid government policies all too often have undermined producers and operators and damaged the markets upon which they depend. Then politicians run in and propose solutions to problems their kind caused in the first place, throwing around tax dollars like confetti.

Stabilizing the agricultural industry is more complex than Band-Aids or bailouts. Start by ceasing practices that chase away prime trading partners for farm products.

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