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: Tennessee

The Cash Croppers: Tennessee

Over the past ten years American taxpayers funneled $1.1 billion to 79,290 Federal farm subsidy recipients in Tennessee. But 39.7 percent of those payments -- $449 million -- went to just two percent of those recipients. Among these 1,586 recipients in the top two percent, Federal farm subsidies averaged $32,435 per year of participation. By comparison, the average recipient in Tennessee got $3,708 per year.

In addition to receiving more subsidies per year of participation, the top two percent of recipients also enrolled in the subsidy programs more frequently. While the average Tennessee recipient was given Federal farm subsidies in 3.8 out of the last ten years, the average rate of participation for those among the top two percent was 8.7 years out of ten.

The combination of higher subsidy payments per year of participation, and the higher rate of participation, earned the top two percent of subsidy recipients in Tennessee an average of $282,918 in Federal farm subsidies over the past ten years. That means that the top recipients in the Tennessee received 19.8 times the amount of subsidy payments that went to the average Tennessee recipient during the last decade.

Congress should take direct action in 1995 to eliminate such massive taxpayer subsidies to the relative handful of "cash croppers"-- the top 2 percent of America's heavily subsidized farm operators who have drawn huge Federal farm payments over the past decade.

In 1995, overall farm spending should be phased downward. Farm payments should be redirected to mid-size and smaller farmers. And instead of paying billions of dollars to a few thousand corporations, joint ventures and big-time farmers, Congress should invest in health care, education and environmental needs in rural Tennessee and rural America generally.

Unfortunately, as the 1995 debate over Federal farm subsidies draws to an end it seems almost certain that Congress will guarantee the status quo, perpetuating extremely high payments to a relative few subsidy recipients in Tennessee and in the nation as a whole. For example, the "Freedom to Farm Act," proposed by Rep. Pat Roberts of Kansas, will lock in big bucks subsidies for the largest recipients--the very corporations, joint ventures and industrial-scale operations that have made constant and maximum use of farm subsidy programs over the past decade. At the same time, the Freedom to Farm Act will lock out assistance in Tennessee to new farmers and farmers who have relied on subsidy payments less often.

Congress is moving aggressively to slash assistance to poor people, education, and environmental protection. But the Federal farm "cash croppers" in Tennessee and other states are likely to emerge from the 1995 budget wars virtually unscathed.