Increasing price guarantees would likely send more farm subsidies to large partnerships

Some farm groups and Republican legislators have proposed increasing price guarantees for a few major crops, and farm subsidies along with them. But farm subsidies mostly benefit the largest and wealthiest farms, which are often set up as “joint operations,” like general partnerships, that don’t have payment limits. So raising price guarantees would send more money to large farms that already receive the lion’s share of payments.

The payment limit of farm subsidy programs is $125,000 per year, per person, or $250,000 for a farmer and their spouse. But there is no cap on how many people can reach the payment limit on a farm if the farm is a partnership. Thousands of farms across the country are set up as partnerships, in which many people may be partners, with each one qualifying for up to $125,000 a year in subsidies. 

It is extremely common for multiple family members to be part of a farm partnership on one farm. So instead of just a farmer and their spouse receiving subsidies, multiple family members get them. The 2018 Farm Bill expanded the definition of family members so cousins, nieces and nephews, in addition to more immediate family members like parents, siblings and adult children, also qualify for payments. 

Farm subsidy recipients must be “actively engaged in farming” to get payments, but the qualifications are easy for family members and partnerships consisting of families.

All partnership members who are landowners automatically qualify. If a person is not a landowner, they must share in the profits or losses of the farm and provide “active personal labor” – they must work on the farm, or take part in “active personal management,” helping manage the farm. 

Although there are rules about the number of hours a farm subsidy recipient must provide each year for farm labor or management, this does not apply to partnerships made up of family members. And in the U.S., nearly all farms – about 98 percent – are family farms.

It is easy for family members who don’t own land to qualify as actively engaged in farming – there is no minimum profit or loss a person must have at stake or how much work a person must do on the farm or to manage the farm. 

That’s why thousands of people who live in big cities and don’t live or work on a farm receive farm subsidies, EWG found.

Some agriculture groups and Republican members of Congress want to redirect the $19.5 billion allocated for climate-smart agricultural practices in the Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA to increase farm subsidies.

But, as EWG has found, this would mostly benefit fewer than 6,000 farms in just a few states, and mostly growers of rice, peanuts and cotton. Many of these farms are partnerships, so increasing price guarantees would send more money to those without a payment limit. 

A number of rice farms in the southern U.S. are likely organized as partnerships, but because of a lack of transparency, it’s impossible to know the exact number.

EWG recently released an analysis of the top 16 rice farmers that received over $10 million in farm subsidies and got subsidies for 27 consecutive years. While we can’t tell exactly how these farm businesses are organized, it is extremely likely that many, if not most, are partnerships. 

It’s also clear that many people in these farm businesses likely get subsidies. While a previous farm bill barred the Department of Agriculture from disclosing the names of farm partnership members, we can see who received subsidies, or is registered as a farm owner, by comparing subsidy recipient and farm owner addresses. 

The list of 16 rice farms that have gotten over $10 million in subsidies over the past 27 years includes many recipients whose addresses are also where the subsidy checks are sent.

Some of these farm businesses had multiple people getting payments at the same address. Others had multiple people and other partnerships or corporations at the same address, and a few had only other partnerships or corporations at the same address. For example:

  • Satterfield Farms, which at $13.8 million was number four on the list for most farm subsidy money out of the 16 rice farms, had five people at the same address as the farm business. Those are likely at least some of the people getting subsidies through the business.
  • Brantley Farming Company was second on the list, with $16.1 million in subsidies, and three people and three businesses at the same address.
  • Bearskin Farms, number 13 on the list, with $10.5 million in subsidies, only has other partnerships and corporations at the same address – six of them. 

Subsidy recipients or farm owners at the same address as these farm businesses

Satterfield Farms

Brantley Farming Company

Bearskin Farms

Nancy Satterfield Gumwood Palarm Bayou Farm
Travis Satterfield Agros Pecan Partnership
Regina Satterfield Brantley & Sons Lonoke 31 Farm
Mary Kline Geneva Brantley Little Prairie
Adam Satterfield Laudies D. Brantley, Jr. Bearskin Farming
  Pauline S. Brantley Sunny Day Farms

Source: EWG’s Farm Subsidy Database

Rice farmers do not need even more subsidies, especially not at the expense of conservation practices that reduce farms’ greenhouse gas emissions.

Increasing price guarantees would send more subsidies to relatively few farmers of rice, peanuts and cotton, and many of these farms are partnerships with no payment limits. This money should be kept within the conservation programs, as Congress intended in the IRA.

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