About the Database
According to the farm subsidy database, many businesses appear to be getting farm subsidies. Who and how many people are in these businesses?
Where is my uncle, he's a farmer?
Isn't this information private?
When I look at the recipients from my county, the numbers seem low. Why?
The database says I received far more than I really did last year. Why?
Does the database include peanut, sugar, or tobacco subsidies?
About Farm Subsidies
Where can I learn more about farm subsidies?
Do these large subsidies help ensure American consumers continue to have access to cheap food?
Don't we need these farm subsidies for commodities like cotton, rice, corn, wheat, and soybeans to feed our army and our country in wartime?
Do crop subsidies help farmers?
Don't crop subsidies bolster rural economies?
Do all crop subsidy payments go to farmers?
Wouldn't millions of farmers live in poverty if not for farm subsidies?
What will the new farm bill do about large subsidies going to the very largest of commercial agribusinesses?
Urban taxpayers get federal assistance in cleaning up human waste from sewer and wastewater. Shouldn't rural corporate animal feeding operations get federal assistance to do the same to meet environmental laws?
Why doesn't your website also include farm size, net income and cost of production?
Why doesn't EWG post information on welfare recipients?
Is EWG's goal to divide the farm community by scapegoating farmers and listing the payments? By pitting farmers against one another aren't you hurting the farm policy debate?
Isn't much more money going to welfare and food stamp recipients being spent through this farm bill than farm subsidies?
About 8 percent of farms grow 60 percent of food and fiber in this country so it makes sense that the majority of the funds go to the largest producers, why doesn't EWG support this policy?
Aren't most of the farm subsidies going to just ten percent of the farmers skewed because you're counting "hobby farmers"?
Shouldn't Congress maximize income supports for farmers because our world competitors do?
How much crop subsidy money does the new farm law contain?
I think the database numbers include nonrecourse loan amounts that I repay, so why is it showing up as a payment?
Why does subsidized crop production keep going up even when prices are low?
Which crop acreage has been increasing recently?
Environmental Issues Regarding Agricultural Production
I thought that farmers were controlling erosion and runoff on their farms, is this right?
How much farm chemicals are farmers applying to the land every year?
Is agricultural runoff really an environmental problem or is it just hype?
What can we do about solving this environmental problem?
I'm still not convinced that farm runoff is such a large problem. What other issues relate to farm runoff?
About the Database
Farm policies allow individuals and a variety of business entities, which may be comprised of multiple individuals, to receive farm subsidies. As displayed in the database, business entities include corporations, partnerships, tribal nations, or farmer cooperatives. From examining the USDA data, unless the company's name is revealing, EWG has no way of knowing the identity and number of individuals who comprise each business and whether they are collecting farm subsidies only through that business or under their own names and other entities, as well. Good examples of this are Riceland Foods Inc. and Producers Rice Mill in Arkansas, two of the largest recipients of farm subsidies in the country that also happen to be large farmer cooperatives comprised of thousands of producers.
Although farmers produce scores of different crops, the government makes direct subsidy payments for only eight commodity crops - such as cotton, corn, wheat, and rice. If your uncle doesn't grow any of the subsidized crops, or has not registered his production history with USDA, he will not show up in our database.
These data are publicly available thanks to a 1996 lawsuit brought by The Washington Post. A federal judge ordered the USDA to open its records to the public, because the public had a right to know how billions of their tax dollars were being spent. (Read the EWG review of the court's decision, or read the actual decision) Unlike welfare or student loans, the amount of federal support per recipient varies dramatically, with some recipients receiving as much as several million dollars in a single year, while most are left behind.
When you see a list of recipients from a county, we chose to display how much money they received for farms in that county alone. Many operations own other farms, or have farms that are in more than one county, and receive more subsidies than listed there. For a complete analysis of any recipient, click on their name.
Please note that unless otherwise specified, farm subsidy totals represent the amount received from 1996 through 2001 - the past six years of subsidies. The payments are presented by calender year, so late or early payments can affect yearly totals. For a complete breakdown of subsidy history, click on a recipient's name.
The database includes payments to tobacco recipients in calendar year 2000. The database presently does not include sugar payments. The EWG peanut quota database is available on the home page. It shows how much peanut quota is held by individuals, corporations, trusts and estates as well as how much each will receive under the peanut quota compensation program enacted by the 2002 farm bill.
The Environmental Working Group is a not-for-profit environmental research organization based in Washington, DC. (Read more about us.) Funding for our farm subsidy work came from the Joyce Foundation and the Wallace Genetic Foundation.
We think current policy has badly failed almost everyone in agriculture but the very largest producers of a few favored crops. Most farmers and ranchers - indeed, entire regions of the country - receive little or no assistance. Tens of thousands of farmers who have applied for USDA conservation programs, for instance, have been turned away because those programs are chronically under-funded. In almost every state, there are multi-million dollar backlogs of applications of farmers and ranchers waiting to get into the program. Even though the 2002 farm bill provided more money for the farmland conservation programs, it will not be enough. More than 70 percent of total farm bill dollars was devoted to crop subsidies, leaving very little for more important programs, such as farmland conservation, agricultural research and rural development, to ensure a vibrant and productive future for U.S. agriculture.
Don't you have to define family farm before you prescribe policy for them?
Family farms come in all shapes and sizes. The central questions in the policy debate do not revolve, in our opinion, around what is or is not a family farm. Very large operations, comprised of tens of thousands of acres, can be, and are, owned and operated by families. No one disputes that. The questions arise around the matter of how far federal support ought to extend as farms expand, especially since agricultural assistance is seen by most economists as accelerating expansion and consolidation. And why should we continue to provide direct payments overwhelmingly to the largest producers of certain, favored crops? In our view, more federal assistance, in the form of conservation program support, should be made available to farms of all sizes, regardless of what they grow. As Secretary Veneman has recently noted, in USDA's report, "Taking Stock" (2002) small and mid-size farms would find such conservation programs especially attractive to their diverse operations. And because such farms own and operate such a large share of total farm and ranch land, conservation program investments make sense for taxpayers, too.
About Farm Subsidies
Farm subsidies increase the price of commodities by driving up the cost of land - the main cost of farming. In 2000 alone, USDA estimates that farm subsidies drove land values up by 25 percent (USDA's Agricultural Outlook, June, 2001). According to USDA, the grain components of a loaf of bread or box of cereal are only 5 to 7 cents of the full price of these products. Consumers mostly pay for the labor, processing, packaging and transportation for the final food products they buy.
Senator Richard Lugar, Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee said it best at a hearing on September 26, "I'm tired of everyone saying an army marches on its stomach to imply that we need a farm bill to feed our troops. We've got food coming out our ears."
According to one of the most respected agricultural economists in the nation from Iowa State University, Dr. Michael Duffy, "the claim that these subsidies are necessary to feed our country and our troops during wartime or anytime, is preposterous."
The vast majority of rural America and the agricultural food-producing sector is not greatly impacted by farm subsidies. Twelve states absorb more than seventy percent of total farm subsidies. Subsidies only go to support 20 percent of total agricultural production value. Only thirty percent of total farm acreage in the U.S. is devoted to subsidized crops. Only 40 percent of U.S. farmers receive crop subsidies.
Agribusiness produces so much of these subsidized commodities that they export from 20 to 50 percent of what they produce. For instance, in 2001, the U.S. exported 53 percent of its wheat crop, 42 percent of its rice crop, 35 percent of its soybean crop, 46 percent of its sorghum crop, and 45 percent of its cotton crop. Furthermore, cotton, a non-food crop, is subsidized by about $1 to 2 billion (depending on market prices) per year.
In fact, the opposite is true for most farmers. The one-two-punch of higher land prices and subsidies collected mostly by larger, more established farm operations has driven more farmers off their land than it has protected (GAO 2001). The number of farmers declined by 15 percent from 1987 to 1997 (USDA). Secretary Ann Veneman's recent report, "Taking Stock for the New Century," said it best:
"For example, highly efficient commercial farms benefit enormously from price supports, enabling them to expand their operations and lower costs even more. Other farms have not received enough benefits to remain viable and have been absorbed along the way."
According to Dr. Mike Duffy, a highly respected agricultural economist from Iowa State University, "In terms of food security, concentration in the agricultural industry should be a greater worry among Americans."
The fact is that the vast majority of rural America is not greatly impacted by farm subsidies. Twelve states absorb more than seventy percent of total farm subsidies. Subsidies only go to support 20 percent of the nation's total agricultural production value. Less than one-third of total farm acreage in the U.S. is devoted to subsidized crops. Only about 40 percent of the nation's farmers receive subsidies. Of this, the top 10 percent received nearly 70 percent of total subsidies. In real numbers, the top ten percent took home $48 billion out of $60 billion spent over the last five years on crop subsidies. According to the U.S. 2000 Census, only about 250 counties are dependent on agricultural production to sustain their local economies, down from 2,000 in the early part of the 1900s.
Farmers rent land (42 percent) from landowners who may live in urban areas and are eligible to receive subsidies. For example, 22,000 residents living in the major metropolitan areas like Denver, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., collected $250 million over the last five years and will continue to collect vast sums of subsidies under the new farm bill.
Fortune 500 companies such as Du Pont ($188,732), Georgia Pacific ($37,156), Boise Cascade ($11,024), Caterpillar ($171,698), Archer Daniels Midland ($36,305), John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance (125,975), International Paper ($375,395), Chevron ($260,223), Mead Corp ($15,115) and many others received crop subsidies. Under the new farm bill, companies, like Georgia Pacific, Boise Cascade and Archer Daniels Midland, will continue to collect subsidies because much of their income is derived from agricultural production.
Unfortunately, farm subsidies do little to reduce rural poverty. Half of the farmers who get payments receive only two percent of total farm subsidies. These farmers average a paltry $256 per year in payments. Furthermore, farm-dependent counties remain the poorest in America, and farm programs are not helping most of them. One-fifth of rural children -- more than 3 million children -- live in poverty. Rural poverty disproportionately affects minorities and the elderly, and farm programs, by favoring landowners and highly mechanized farms, do not substantially help close this poverty gap. Moreover, despite huge taxpayer investment to save "family farms," the number of farm jobs fell 27 percent between 1975 and 1996 and is expected to decline by another 13 percent by 2008.
Nothing. The full Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of limiting total subsidies to $275,000 per person per year. Unfortunately, the conference committee made up of status quo legislators, refused to take the Senate language. The only change the final farm law makes is that wealthy corporate entities or very wealthy people that make less than 75 percent of their income from agricultural operations are no longer eligible for crop subsidies.
Urban taxpayers get federal assistance in cleaning up human waste from sewer and wastewater. Shouldn't rural corporate animal feeding operations should get federal assistance to do the same to meet environmental laws?
Urban and suburban taxpayers and ratepayers pay for the cost of cleaning up their waste as well as receive assistance from the federal treasury. Rural ratepayers and taxpayers get federal assistance from the federal treasury as well as the farm bill to clean up human waste and provide clean drinking water.
Under the new farm law, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars will go to clean up huge confined hog, poultry and cattle feed lots. While they may not use all of this money, it's certain that smaller, family-sized operations will get less conservation assistance. Corporations and large businesses of every kind pay for the cost of complying with environmental laws, why should corporate agribusiness get different treatment? Moreover, conservation subsidies to large agribusinesses hurt smaller family livestock operations by placing them at an even greater competitive disadvantage compared to larger feeding operations. Should taxpayers really be financing further demise of smaller family farms and ranches? EWG thinks not.
USDA issues reports on farm income periodically. Please go to USDA http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/FarmIncome/fore.htm to learn more about farm income by size, region, and crop. ERS periodically reports on farm income which is an excellent source to use to gain a better understanding of who wins and who loses under current subsidy programs. Although some of the top subsidy recipients may not be making a large profit, the majority still makes far more than the average American. USDA's report, Food and Agriculture Policy; Taking Stock for the New Century (Taking Stock, 2001) shows that 47 percent of the payments went to large commercial farms that had an average household income of $135,000 a year. Total average U.S. household income is about $55,000. Moreover, if the top recipients are still struggling after taxpayers spent over $90 billion in the last six years on farm subsidies, then the programs obviously are not working and we should not continue to spend more money on flawed policies in the next farm bill.
As farmers are first to point out, farm subsidies are not welfare. These payments are business transactions between the federal government and the recipient. Unlike welfare, these payments are not based on need, but are based on the land's historic crop plantings and predominately reward larger operations that own their land. Our intention is not to compare farmers to welfare recipients or any other group that receives government assistance. The purpose of EWG's database is to show people for the very first time where the subsidy payments are going to help them in making more informed decisions and opinions about current policies. This has created a healthy debate that has never occurred before in farming communities across the country. We think that after 70 years of essentially the same policies, it's time for an informed debate.
EWG is clearly not scapegoating or blaming the farmers. Congress is responsible for the current failures or successes of farm policy. However, instead of examining the policies closely, Congress raced through the debate on this new farm law a year ahead of schedule and took the easiest approach of simply funneling more money to the same policies, which EWG believes are flawed.
EWG has heard from farmers across the country whose general response is that it's about time someone took the cover off these farm payments and stirred up the farm debate. EWG strongly believes that unless farmers really want another 5 to 10 years of low prices, high surpluses and too many farmers dependent on government payments, then Congress and farm organizations need to take a more creative approach, such as providing more assistance through conservation programs. EWG hopes that the database will serve as a "wake up call" to farmers to spur them to evaluate what's happening to farming in their regions. As aptly stated by Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), "Too many farm organizations have simply come in and viewed the farm bill as an ATM machine, and they haven't reviewed the policy."
Money for food assistance programs, such as food stamps, varies by year, depending on economic conditions, such as numbers of unemployed people. For 2001, the food programs cost about $18 billion versus commodity subsidies that reached about $21 billion. For 2002, because of the growing ranks of the unemployed, food programs will cost about $21 billion versus a potential $20 billion in commodity spending, depending on prices and the final outcome of the farm bill. Food stamps, and the school breakfast and lunch programs are really the first line of defense against widespread hunger among poor people in the United States. In fact, the number of rural Americans depending on food stamps is growing at a faster rate than the rate in urban America. The House and Senate Committee farm bills raised food stamp benefits by about $6 billion, over a ten-year period.
The Freedom to Farm bill was supposed to end farm subsidies by 2002, which failed dismally because of farmers' pressure for more subsidies. Indeed, no one is even mentioning phasing out subsidies over the long term. Welfare Reform, on the other hand, has not been significantly altered since its enactment in 1996, despite protests from those affected.
The stated goal of farm policy is not to help primarily the largest farms acquire more land and produce more and more food and fiber that current market prices can't support. The goal is to help all family farmers stay in business, become more competitive and expand their markets here and abroad. Unfortunately, current farm policy has led to overproduction, lower prices, higher land prices and land rental rates, and higher costs to the taxpayer. As USDA's various income reports indicate, including its Taking Stock, 2001, report, farm policy has worked to the advantage of the largest landowning producers and to the detriment of smaller farming operators who primarily rent most of their farmland. USDA boldly stated that the subsidies given to large commercial operations are helping them to buy out their smaller counterparts. EWG supports farm programs that reach all farmers fairly and give a benefit back to the taxpayer, such as cleaner water, open space, wildlife habitat and a more competitive, diverse farm economy.
USDA includes in their definition of "farmer" all farms that produce over $1,000 a year of farm production. These "hobby farmers" should not be counted because they are only farming to enjoy the rural lifestyle and have off-farm jobs that support their income. Statements that talk about most of the farm subsidies going to just ten percent of the farmers are skewed because you're counting these "hobby farmers."
The majority of family farm operations supports or augments their income with off-farm jobs - even the biggest of operators, but mostly the medium to smaller operations. This combination creates a more diverse and stable rural economy with many residents supporting the infrastructure and businesses of their communities. Small and intermediate farms with off-farm income occupy 71 percent of the land owned by farmers. These farms not only help keep land in production but also keep families in rural towns. Therefore, USDA has concluded in its various reports, including Taking Stock, 2001, report that it's critical for farm policy to account for and recognize the importance of these smaller farms' contribution to the make-up of rural communities as well as meeting consumer demands.
In its Taking Stock, 2001, report, USDA explains why it is critical that Congress not enact policies that would further distort world markets and run counter to the free trade goals that the Administration is trying to achieve. American producers stand to gain much more access to world markets and higher prices through agreements with other countries to remove trade barriers, such as high tariffs, and market distorting domestic and export subsidies. The 1994 Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture established some parameters for countries worldwide in which to move towards freer trade. Another round of negotiations is underway to take even more steps in this direction. Therefore, any farm bill should comply with the parameters established in this 1994 agreement as well as not threaten progress by enacting programs that violate the letter or spirit of the government's goals in the new round of negotiations. If producers stand any chance to have higher market prices in the future, expanding exports is a must and can only be sustainably achieved through freer world trade. Go to USDA's Agricultural Outlook for more on this www.ers.usda.gov/publications/AgOutlook/Jan2002 to learn more about the trade agreement.
Based on the Congressional Budget Office's estimates of what crop prices will do in the future, crop subsidies will cost about $125 billion over the next ten years. Of this amount, $47 billion is "new" funding added to the existing funding for these programs. This money will go to subsidize roughly 10 crops. Farmland conservation funding, for which ALL producers of all crops are eligible, only received $17 billion in new funding over the next ten years.
The data do not include nonrecourse loan amounts, but they do include any loan gains or loan deficiency payments paid out in the calendar year. The data also reflect payments made in a calendar year.
Farm program payments, designed to serve only as a safety net for forty percent of the nation's producers, are giving farmers too much incentive to increase production at levels not supported by the market. According to USDA analysis, roughly 23 million acres of range and pastureland were converted to row crops between 1982 and 1997. These conversions contribute to crop surpluses, low prices, and higher government payments, as well as to significant declines in grassland ecosystems and many bird and other wildlife species that depend upon them. This 23 million acreage increase also occurred at the same time taxpayers paid farmers to retire more than 30 million acres of crop land under the Conservation Reserve Program.
Subsidy payments induce more production from the very competitive producers in the U.S. While some regions and/or producers believe that the income subsidies and crop price supports are too low, others believe not and are taking full advantage of them to expand their operations. According to USDA's Taking Stock, 2001, report, "For example, highly efficient commercial farms benefit enormously from price supports, enabling them to expand their operations and lower costs even more. Other farms have not received enough benefits to remain viable and have been absorbed along the way." (Page 6) Subsidies essentially help those who own outright the most fertile land for the crops they produce, have cheap access to water or live in areas not prone to frequent droughts.
Environmental Issues Regarding Agricultural Production
Farmers need to do a better job at controlling farm fertilizer and chemical runoff and soil erosion. According to USDA's Natural Resources Inventory, the US loses 1.9 BILLION tons of soil EACH YEAR. USDA believes that 1.3 BILLION tons (2.6 TRILLION pounds of soil) of this is an unsustainable rate of erosion, meaning that one day, congressional leaders are going to realize what a huge problem this is in terms of environmental damage and the nation's ability to produce food in the future and the environment.
An integral component of this large problem is the incredible amounts of nitrate, phosphorous and chemicals from farming that are ending up in our water, making it unsafe to drink and very harmful to the nation's environment. USDA's chemical reports show that farmers apply 40 BILLION pounds of fertilizer (nitrogen and phosphorous) and about 500 MILLION pounds of pesticides per year. While some of this stays on the farm, much of it doesn't. In addition, the enormous amounts of animal waste from all types of animal operations, especially large confined animal feeding operations, are ending up in our water.
According to EPA (1998), agricultural pollution is the leading cause of water quality impairment in lakes, streams, and rivers that were assessed. Agricultural pollution ranks fifth behind urban and industrial runoff as the leading cause of coastal zone pollution. EWG used to refer people to EPA's site, http://www.epa.gov/305b/98report/toc.html, to read its 1998 report about water quality impairment in U.S. waters. Unfortunately, the EPA has removed this report from the internet.
If you want to learn more, USDA's Economic Research Service has a natural resources division dedicated to following the environmental problems that are caused by or related to agricultural production. For example, go to http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aib771/ to learn more about water quality impairment and livestock waste.
Soil and nutrients combined make powerful pollutants. Together, with algal growth they create, soil and nutrients clog up rivers making navigation and transportation difficult and more costly, kill fish and harm other wildlife, and drive up the costs of treating drinking water -- just to name a few problems. And, we shouldn't kid ourselves into thinking that the water utilities can really clean out all of the agricultural pollution from our drinking water. Search EWG's archive of reports that use the government's own data to show the public that chemicals, such as agricultural pesticides, are found in our drinking water. The detrimental health effects of pesticides are also described in these reports.
Using the farmland conservation programs, farmers can create structures and conservation practices, like grass buffer areas between crop fields and streams, on the farm to control runoff. In addition, farmers could enroll wetlands into a protection program to ensure that it continues to filter water of pollutants naturally. Farmers could retire highly erodible crop lands into the Conservation Reserve Program to stop their top soil from blowing or running into water sources. Farmers could also adopt more common sense farming practices that disturb the soil less as well as plant cover crops on barren soil rather than leaving it to blow or wash away.
Recent human health studies have linked soil erosion from farmland to health risks to pregnant women and fetuses. See EWG's report on this website, "Consider the Source." In short, the more chlorine that water utilities are forced to use to get rid of fine organic particles in drinking water, the more "chlorinated by-products" we, as consumers, must drink. Some of these by-products are already known to cause bladder cancer in humans and are regulated by EPA and the water utilities. Now, recent science, although not conclusive, indicates that these by-products, if consumed at certain levels, can cause miscarriages and birth defects in babies. Because they are closer to the erosion and have less sophisticated water cleaning technologies, rural Americans drink water that is more polluted by these by-products than water consumed by their urban counterparts.