It would appear the economy is on the mend, although conditions will vary from region to region.
The government reports factory orders rose in December. The news comes on the heels of reports of brisk home sales, and greater consumer demand for big ticket manufactured goods. The outlook for much of Rural America can be found in the trading pits. Prices for grain, oilseed, indeed most commodities, are rutted in the lower end of trading ranges. If futures prices are any indication market prospects for this year's crop are not encouraging. That's why government subsidies have become so important to many in the farm economy.
But the volume and disbursement of those subsidies have caused mutations within the nation's farm economy. This week, debating the farm bill, the Senate took a significant step toward rectifying a controversial element of past farm plans.
The senate by a 2 to 1 margin voted to restrict the amount of subsidies that farmers can receive. Under the legislation the cap would be $275-thousand dollars per farm.
The vote comes on the heels of a succession of reports issued by the Environmental Working Group condemning not only the volume of dollars flowing to the country, but the pattern of dispersal. Most of the government subsidies flow to producers in a handful of states, mostly the Midwest and South, who produce a handful of commodities, mostly feedgrains, soybeans, rice and cotton.
Adding fuel to the debate has been the environmental working group's launch of a web database revealing the amount of government dollars individual farmers have received over the past four years.
The vote broke along regional rather than party lines. Senators from the North favored the amendment, arguing the large payments were driving up land prices and cash rents, pushing smaller farmers out of business. Southern lawmakers opposed the limits, arguing commodities like rice and cotton cost more to produce.