|Texas farmer Ed Gangl with
producer Joe Rubin
But even with all that experience, Gangl is hanging on by his fingernails to a profession he loves. Over iced tea and catfish at an El Campo dinner, the farmer told Washington Post reporter Gil Gaul and me that he recently had to give up health insurance. He said he was taking his chances for three years until Medicare kicks in.
On one level it's baffling why this is happening to Gangl. The price of rice on the world market is at record levels. But Gangl can't find enough land to grow rice in the historic heart of the Texas rice belt. And as he toured us around the El Campo area he showed us why. Many landowners are simply, as reporter Dan Morgan puts it, legally "gaming the system," collecting thousands of dollars in direct payments because rice was once grown on their land. Some landowners are simply letting their land lie fallow. Others collect payments for rice and grow another crop or rent it out for cattle grazing. And as The Washington Post's "Harvesting Cash" series famously pointed out, some are building "cowboy starter kits," upscale homes which come with a guaranteed farm payment.
You would think all this might make an old rice farmer bitter. But Gangl shows none of that. There are few outright victims of the farm subsidy system. As Gangl is quick to point out, he also gets farm subsidy payments. Listening to him explain the mesh of counter-cyclical, crop insurance, and direct payments, one gets the sense of how complicated being a farmer is these days.
What Gangl is passionate about is trying to explain the impact that all those billions of dollars of waste that The Washington Post uncovered has on a place like El Campo. "I'm at the tail of this, but if the system isn't reformed, I don't see how younger farmers are going to make it," the Texas rice farmer said.
JOE RUBIN has reported for ABC's Nightline and PBS's Frontline World, including an Expos√?¬© of the Otpor (Resistance) student movement against Slobodan Milosevic, a profile of Cuba through the prism of vintage car mechanics, and a hunt for Serbian war criminals Ratko Mladic and Radavan Karadzic. A Knight Fellow and Pew Fellow, he has also written for the New York Times, Mother Jones, and CMJ Music Magazine, and reported for National Public Radio. Rubin's other documentaries for Expos√?¬©'s include "Nice Work If You Can Get It," "Think Like A Terrorist" (Parts 1 & 2), and "In A Small Town" (Parts 1 & 2)