Nutrition activists have argued for some time that more farm subsidies should be going into fruits and vegetables rather than grain and cotton, the commodities that have long dominated the money. But it turns out that getting grain farmers to grow veggies instead is easier said than done, at least in the Midwest.
Farmers who get government payments for land that's traditionally grown corn, soybeans and other subsidized crops have long been barred from planting fruits and vegetables on that acreage. Existing fruit and vegetable growers in California and other states have insisted on that restriction. However, a special provision in the 2008 farm bill allowed some Midwest farmers to start switching some corn and soybean acreage to tomatoes and other vegetables destined for processing. As it turns out, only about 10,215 acres have been planted to vegetables, just 14 percent of the 75,000 acres allowed under the pilot program.
Many farmers already had land to grow vegetables on that wasn't subject to the subsidy restrictions, says Bruce Nelson, administrator of the Agriculture Department's Farm Service Agency. Another factor: Demand for processed vegetables is weak.
Some 155 farms participated in the pilot project. Eight-five percent of the farms and farmers were in just three states - Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota - out of seven that were eligible.