Farm subsidies clarification

by Caroline Brown

An email exchange between a fellow blogger leads me to print a clarification of a previous post about farm subsidies. Last year, the U.S. government handed out $23 billion in farm subsidies. The most unbelievable part is that 72% of these subsidies went to 10% of the recipients.

According to the Environmental Working Group's Farm Subsidy Database:

Sixty percent of all farmers and ranchers do not collect government subsidy payments, according to USDA, mostly because the crops and livestock they produce do not qualify for subsidy programs. Among subsidy recipients, large farms collect almost all the money. Nationwide, ten percent of the biggest (and often most profitable) subsidized crop producers collected 72 percent of all subsidies amounting to $104 billion over 10 years. Recipients in the top 10% averaged $33,283 in annual payments between 1995 and 2004. The bottom 80 percent of the recipients saw only $721 on average per year.

So you can see who's gettin' the money and who's not. My beef (um, no pun intended) is against big corporations disguised as farmers so that they don't get accused of corporate welfare.

I wish that farm subsidies weren't necessary at all, but I think that in the case of small farmers, subsidies can be a good thing because of the damage that's been done to them by large corporations, and because we now buy food globally instead of locally. For example, subsidies could be used to incent small farmers to become organically certified or sell into local markets.

Another thing I want to clarify is the intent of my source, the National Center for Policy Analysis. My fellow blogger pointed out that this is a conservative think tank and therefore he doesn't trust their motives. I should have checked my source….that's one of the first things that you learn in journalism school. I probably wouldn't have linked to a conservative source–even if I do happen to agree with their assessment. I don't know if they're a "front group" or if they just use research for deceptive purposes, but their motives are certainly in question–see here and here.

In the issue of farm subsidies in the U.S., we're starting to see support of reducing them in both the conservative and progressive political camps. (Can it be? An issue that both the left and the right agree on?!!) Many on the left and the right are in agreement on this issue, but I would argue that the motives are different. The left would like to end corporate welfare payments to "big ag" companies. The right would like to squeeze out the little guy once and for all.

Thanks to Balou for an enlightening email exchange. The blogging moral of this story? Always check your source!

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3 Comments to “Farm subsidies clarification”

  1. Hi Caroline, Thank you for the post. Today I’ve had a long discussion with a politician – my wife. She shares your point of view and – I surrender. I think for me it will be necessary to have a second, closer look to our own system and if you don’t read anything – then I’m lost in the jungle of the EU guidelines, COM documents, Official Journal, Bulletin of the European Union, documents of the European Parliament, press releases, etc.
    Have a nice weekend

  2. Hi balou, at least you get to argue with your wife in German! 🙂

  3. It’s not really easier because it’s live.

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