The Cash Croppers: Farm Subsidies 1985-1994

The Top Two Percent of America's Farm Subsidy Recipients, 1985-1994

September 2, 1995

The Cash Croppers: Farm Subsidies 1985-1994: About the EWG Farm Subsidy Database

As with City Slickers and Fox in the Henhouse, the first two studies in the series, The Cash Croppers is based on original EWG analyses of more than 112 million computer records -- a record of every check written to every recipient, for every Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS, now known as the Consolidated Farm Service Agency, or CFSA) program, in every year since 1985. The records were obtained in two steps.

Beginning in 1992, EWG filed a series of information requests with USDA under the Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Among the initial requests, we asked for most of the manuals that USDA personnel utilize in implementing all major farm, disaster and conservation assistance programs. After reviewing the manuals, EWG identified and requested dozens of datasets in computerized form, mostly from ASCS, now known as CFSA. The department's computer center in Kansas City fulfilled initial requests by providing data from the Producer Payment Recording System (PPRS) on about forty, 9-track computer tapes, which contained records of payments according to the county from which the payment originated. More recently, data have been provided on high density 4 mm DAT storage tapes. In addition, EWG has obtained another 17 gigabytes of raw data that pertain to subsidy recipients, conservation payments by practice, and characteristics of program farms.

Once the raw data was received, EWG transferred the data files onto its Power Macintosh computer platform for further processing, compilation, quality control and analysis. The data presented in The Cash Croppers, for example, are generated from a customized, point-and-click database application developed by EWG's computer programmers that can access and analyze more than 40 gigabytes of data.

EWG requested and USDA developed an algorithm or "code" that scrambled the identifying numbers of recipients, so that payments and other information could be tracked and analyzed by recipient over all years and all programs. The recipient data were then compiled to obtain program-by-program totals for each individual, corporation or other entity receiving farm subsidies in any year from 1985 through 1994. Data were also aggregated to obtain total, per-program, per-year and per-recipient payments for the nation, as well as for each county, state, and congressional district in the country. The database used for The Cash Croppers includes $108.9 billion-worth of farm subsidy payments issued by USDA between January 1, 1985 and December 31, 1994.


Detailed Subsidy Information Is Now Available

In order to control publication costs, The Cash Croppers presents only the highlights from literally thousands of EWG farm subsidy analyses that are now available to the media on request. All of the these analyses are original, previously unpublished tabulations derived from USDA computer records described above. Most of EWG's analyses and tabulations for top farm subsidy recipients are available for the nation, and for all states, all counties, and all congressional districts.