Bill Knight | Farm subsidies

BILL KNIGHT

BILL KNIGHT

Somewhat overlooked during the holidays’ government shutdown caused by President Trump’s demand for $5 billion to partly fund a border wall that Democrats don’t support was the delay of some farm subsidies and other payments to farmers.

That sparked a couple of thoughts.

First, aren’t such taxpayer-funded, government assistance programs “socialism,” a horse (or steer or pig) of a different color? There is nothing improper or illegal about receiving benefits to which farmers are entitled, of course. But neither is receiving Social Security or government pensions, food stamps or Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), housing allowances or Medicaid/the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Next, are everyday Americans aware of the extent of the subsidies, authorized once more in the $867 billion Farm Bill signed by Trump in December?

The most recent data (from Fiscal Year 2017) is revealing, according to an “oversight” report published by OpenTheBooks.com. Maintained by American Transparency, an independent watchdog group and private database that operates without government funding, OpenTheBooks is headed by conservative Illinois politician Adam Andrzejewski, CEO of the Burr Ridge, Ill., organization.

OpenTheBooks defines “farm subsidy” as benefits from 60 federal farm programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which include marketing assistance, agricultural risk, price loss coverage, livestock forage, conservation and crop disaster.

“During the Great Depression, when most Americans lived in rural areas and many families risked losing their farm, Congress passed the Agriculture Adjustment Act in 1933 as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation,” wrote Andrzejewski and co-author Thomas W. Smith. “Farm subsidies were created to keep the small family farm afloat and ensure a stable national food supply.”

However, times – and agricultural products – have changed.

“Since 2008, the top 10 farm-subsidy recipients each received an average of $18.2 million – that’s $1.8 million annually, $150,000 per month, or $35,000 a week,” they added. “With the median household income of $60,000 a year, these farmers received more than 30 times the average yearly income of U.S. families.”

Andrzejewski, who wrote this in Forbes magazine, was endorsed by Rush Limbaugh and some Tea Party figures in Republicans’ 2010 GOP primary for governor.

“Today, these subsides have grown so lucrative that wealthy investors, large corporations and farm-estate heirs use taxpayer money to maximize their return on investment,” he said. “It was never the intent of Congress to create a new class of millionaires through federal farm subsidies. Yet, the subsidies continue to flow.”

Perhaps campaign contributors and lobbyists could be blamed for tainting what started as a way to help family farms feed the country. And advocacy groups such as the Farm Bureau continue to say that farmers “feed the world.”

But do they? U.S. agriculture no longer grows food for hungry people, says Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists. She reports that 40 percent of the biggest crop – corn – goes into fuel for cars. Most of the second-biggest crop – soybeans – is fed to animals.

Indeed, besides fuel, corn is harvested for “a range of high-value uses including plastics, solvents and fibers,” conceded Dan Wesely, chair of the National Corn Growers Association’s Feed Food and Industrial Action Team.

Agriculture could feed more people, according to Congressional Quarterly’s “Farm Products in World Trade” report, which notes, “An acre produces six to seven times as much food when planted to crops for direct human consumption as when used to pasture milk animals, and about 19 times as much as when used to raise poultry for egg production.”

Andrzejewski says, “The nation’s food supply is not in jeopardy. The U.S. is the world’s largest food exporter and produced more food than the entire European Union combined last year.”

As far as FY 2017 federal farm subsidies, they’re not abstract or distant: these top-15 central Illinois recipients were among those who benefited, according to OpenTheBooks: J&D Farms (Roanoke) $2,473,665.06; Kirk Kimble (Chillicothe) $2,096,498.01; Obery Farms (Metamora) $1,211,083.80; Kent Cornwell (Mackinaw) $778,670.26; William Perardi (Farmington) $764,962; Bar-Roe LLC (Elmwood) $698,276; David Gibbs (Princeville) $676,558.34; Elsasser Farms (Edelstein) $663,418.20; Wayne Streitmatter (Brimfield) $626,944; CC&E Farms (Elmwood) $563,650.12; Zobrist Farms (Congerville) $363,160; Herbert Farms (London Mills) $304,954; Kenneth Streitmatter (Speer) $191,144.55; John Wayne Cowman (Maquon) $141,120.25; and Augsburger Brothers (Eureka) $105,647.02.

OpenTheBooks’ other findings include:

  • one out of every $4 in farm subsidies went to someone who received $250,000 or more that year;
  • residents of the nation’s five biggest cities received nearly $17 million in farm subsidies over a three-year period, including Chicago ($7.7 million), Miami ($4.5 million), New York City ($2.8 million), Los Angeles ($1.6 million) and Philadelphia ($309,000).
  • prosperous people living in the country’s 150 most affluent zip codes got almost $5 million in farm subsidies last year – 90210: Beverly Hills, Calif. ($15,488); 10022: New York City, N.Y. ($83,169); and 96750: Hawaii County, Hawaii ($230,697).

Information and background on American Transparency’s report,” Harvesting U.S. Farm Subsidies,” is online at www.openthebooks.com/openthebooks_%E2%80%93_harvesting_us_farm_subsidies/, and the whole 40-page report can be read or downloaded as a pdf file at https://issuu.com/openthebooks/docs/usfarmsubsidies_08072018?e=31597235/63670406.

Bill Knight



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