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California's Skewed Farm Subsidy Priorities

California's Skewed Farm Subsidy Priorities

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Environmental Working Group Senior Analyst Kari Hamerschlag used EWG's new farm subsidy database to take a deep, critical look at the subsidy system in California. She found (pdf) that although cotton and rice constitute a tiny portion of California’s nation-leading farm production, those two crops – rather than the state’s vast harvest of fruits and vegetables – continue to get the lion’s share of federal farm subsidies in the state.

This gross inequity echoes the national pattern with federal farm payments, which favor a handful of commodity crops and steer the most generous payments to the largest and wealthiest growers. The EWG Farm Subsidies database starkly reveals the imbalance, waste and skewed priorities of federal agriculture programs in California. The current system disproportionately benefits a relatively few big growers of thirsty, chemical-dependent crops while failing to address the environmental challenges facing California agriculture.

Hamerschlag’s analysis also showed that in 2009, the top one percent of subsidy recipients in California, some 125 growers, reaped $57 million in subsidies, a whopping $453,000 per recipient. Ironically, that is precisely the amount spent on the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, the state’s most important agricultural conservation program that helps farmers conserve animal habitat, curb air and water pollution and reduce water use. Last year, the program turned away 4,200 farmers and ranchers, or 70% of applicants due to lack of funds.

Similarly, between 1995 and 2009 an elite group of 567 farming entities – just 1 percent of all subsidy recipients in the state – collected $2 billion , almost five times the $456 million spent statewide on all programs to help farmers conserve animal habitat, curb air and water pollution, and reduce water use during that time.

Go here to read the whole analysis (pdf).


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