USDA Confirms Subsidies Overwhelmingly Flow to Wealthiest Farmers

A new report from the Department of Agriculture confirmed what EWG has been saying for years: Farm subsidies overwhelmingly go to the largest and most successful farm businesses, instead of to struggling family farms that need them the most.

This week, the department’s Economic Research Service released a study that showed about one-third of payments from commodity programs went to farms with at least $1 million in annual sales in 2015. This was considerably higher than the 11 percent of payments these large farm businesses received in 1991. At the same time, the share of payments given to small farms has dropped: Farms that make less than $350,000 in sales received 61 percent of payments in 1991, but only 30 percent in 2015. These small farms make up almost 90 percent of the total number of farms.

This confirms the findings of EWG’s newly updated Farm Subsidy Database, which shows that for the expensive Agricultural Risk Coverage commodity program, the top 10 percent of recipients received 58 percent of the payments in 2015 and 2016.

The USDA’s report also says that farm subsidies go to farmers with large household incomes. In 1991, farmers who made more than about $60,000 in household income received half of all commodity program payments. But by 2015, farmers who had household incomes over about $146,000 received half of the payments.

Conservation program payments are much more likely to go to farms that actually need them. In 2015, almost 80 percent of payments from land-retirement programs like the Conservation Reserve Program went to farms that had less than $150,000 in sales.

Reforming the subsidy programs in the 2018 Farm Bill could channel funds to the struggling family farms that actually need them, instead of paying large farm businesses that are already successful. And the savings from the reforms could go to conservation programs that protect our drinking water, which already benefit farms with lower sales.

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