• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • USDA Gives Millions to Farmers Who Aren't Actually Farming

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture has doled out millions of dollars in subsidies to farms on which farming isn’t actually taking place, according a new report from government watchdogs. Billions more have gone towards supporting farms that don’t grow the crops for which they’re being subsidized.

    USDA gave nearly $3 million last year to 2,327 farms that had not grown any crops since 2006, according to the report, released last week by the Government Accountability Office. Of those farms, 622 had not grown any crops since 2001.

    According to GAO’s analysis,

    about 2,300 farms, or about 0.15 percent of the 1.6 million farms receiving direct payments in 2011, reported all their land as “fallow,” that is, producers did not plant any crops of any type on this land, for each year of the last 5 years (i.e., 2007 through 2011), as allowed under the farm bill. These producers received a total of about $2.9 million in direct payments in 2011…

    In addition, according to our analysis of USDA data, 622 farms reported all of their farm’s acreage as fallow for each of the previous 10 years, from 2002 through 2011.

    While some farms were receiving subsidies without actually growing crops, others got billions even though they didn’t grow the crops for which they were being subsidized, GAO reports:

    Cumulatively, USDA paid $10.6 billion—almost one-fourth of total direct payments from 2003 through 2011—to producers who did not, in a given year, plant any of the crop for which they had base acres. Specifically, during this period, producers cumulatively did not plant more than 633 million acres with the crops associated with their base acres in a given year. This amounted to an average of 70 million acres each year, or 26 percent of the 268 million base acres on average that are annually eligible for direct payments.

    GAO concludes with a simple policy prescription: “In light of the need to identify potential savings in the federal budget and questions about the continued need for direct payments, Congress should consider eliminating or reducing [direct subsidy] payments.”

    In fact, both the House and Senate versions of the legislation contain provisions that would eliminate these direct payments in favor of expanded crop insurance subsidies.

    GAO also recommends enhanced screening techniques to weed out non-farm land from USDA’s subsidy programs. The agency accepted some of those recommendations, but rejected a proposal to gather a more representative and comprehensive sample of farms that benefit from federal subsidies to confirm that those farms are still in operation.

    Posted in Featured, Ongoing Priorities, Scribe [slideshow_deploy]

    17 Responses to USDA Gives Millions to Farmers Who Aren't Actually Farming

    1. KJinAZ says:

      This is no better than the Pigford settlement. More proof we need to end all of the unconstitutional government departments. This is nothing more than government organized fraud, and it must be stopped.

    2. BigSkyCountry says:

      7/09/2012

      Ergo, resulting in a severe food shortage …..

    3. I, too, though not rich or famous, have desisted from farming for the last 10 years. I don't even have one tomato plant, and my tulip bulbs were eaten by squirrels.

      So send me my check posthaste. I live in Delaware.

    4. Shaun Evertson says:

      Yes, spending is the problem. Yes, technically many farmers are being paid to idle portions of their land through conservation programs. Yes, we would all be better off of there were zero direct payments to farmers — or to any citizen, including the 49 percent who receive annual welfare payments from the IRS.

      However, and yes, this is dropping the other shoe, Americans have been very clear, ever since the Great Depression, that they want safe, nutritious, and above all, cheap food. Congress and the USDA have heeded this directive from the sovereign people.

      Now we find ourselves in a position where, with the exception of imported specialty or luxury foods, all the food consumed in this country is grown by at most two percent of the population. Each month that figure drops closer to 1 percent. Farming and ranching is hard, labor-intensive work. Not many Americans want to do that work, and of those who would like to, the roadblocks are nearly insurmountable.

      Ideally, all direct payments should end, but they've been put in place over a period of more than 80 years. Such payments should be phased out over time to allow farmers to adjust their practices and re-enter the free market.

      I'm not suggesting an 80-year phase out, but it needs to be long enough to allow adjustment.

      With so few feeding so many, there is a grave danger that sudden change could have catastrophic results.

      Your premise is fine, but you're a) missing the forest for the trees, and b) you haven't sufficiently studied the problem and therefore don't understand it.

      • L McDonald says:

        Thank you, Shaun. I don't know I agree with a TOTAL phase-out, because there are a good many farmers who don't have opportunity to irrigate and droughts hit really really hard. With a total phase-out AND droughts, floods, etc, the 2% of Americans who farm would diminish even more. That said though, it is evident that many conservatives are far enough removed from the agriculture sector that they don't know about good-stewardship practices like crop rotation and allowing land to go fallow for brief (not lazy though) periods of time. Continuous planting of certain crops (cotton, for example, and others) strips the ground of its plant-beneficial mineral bases. Responsible farmers will usually rotate their fields, planting the cotton (or whatever) one year, and than a less "stripping" commodity the next year or two in a particular field. The conservation programs are not short-sighted, but have the long-term view of soil health (in a non-eco-wacko way) for the benefit of our agriculture as a whole.

        Yes, there are some who are like leeches and abuse the system, but they are in the minority. Farmers are not rich landowners who are feeding off of the government. If they are fortunate enough to see large paychecks after selling their harvest, nearly every penny of that once-a-year paycheck gets put right back into preparing for and fertilizing next year's crops for efficiency and maximum yield. Farming in this modern age will not last if there isn't a little bit of a back-up financial plan.

        • shaun evertson says:

          Thanks to you, Mr. McDonald. I'm a rancher in western Nebraska. There are no federal subsidies available to me, though I am eligible to participate in certain conservation programs, each of which would limit my ability to use my land and cost me more dollars than I would rake in from uncle sam.

          Philosophically I believe that the government needs to return to its constitutional charter and get out of the vote-buying business. All the way out.

          There's no fundamental reason the private sector couldn't provide disaster and crop-failure insurance.

          A planned, timed phase-out of usda payments would allow the private sector to develop affordable alternatives. If you've read Thomas Sowell's piece on the zero-sum fallacy you'll get my drift.

          At the same time, US farming and ranching is very fragile. There are few farmers and ranchers, and many ideological activists — be they socialists, enviros, anarchists, free-riders, what have you — who actually possess the ability to destroy the ag industry.

          With the present activist administration and a "get rich above all else" congress, we've very nearly reached the confluence of the perfect storm that will quickly kill America through the unintended consequences of mad schemes.

    5. Bobbie says:

      Lots of inside jobs that have to be addressed with discipline. The conduct by corruption and non compliance in government positions (paid at corrupt wages) handing out unearned money to the populace, can't go unheard. This overwhelming America has got to stop! Lines have to be redrawn! And people paid by me and Warren Buffet, put in their place! Can we really trust the USDA, the FDA or any democratic government entity to do the job they are given to do? No we can't. We're not given any reason to. If people don't expect they are to be held accountable to their government positions, they are to be removed for lack of character, negative attitude and inability to do the job. Quit the pamper and take action always, to correct America's problems not accommodate them into 3rd world leadership mentality!!

    6. Elliott L. Kipp says:

      I agree with Shaun Evertson: I personally know some farmers and have found them to be basically honest and hard working people. Yes, some of them have received subsidies. These policies were put in place many years ago and in some cases were in effect before the present farmers were born. A gradual pull-back of these subsidies over a few years would be beneficial to both farmers and the consumers. God bless America. Elliott L. Kipp

    7. Ken Marx says:

      I am no more in favor of subsidies to farmers than I am of subsidies to other businesses such as "alternative" energy and subsidies to individuals (we used to call it welfare but couch it in nicer terms these days). Having said that, I'm curious as to how many of those 2300 farms that grew nothing for years are located in areas of California's central valley where they aren't allowed to use water because of some little non-indigenous fish? It's appalling that we allow that to happen!

    8. L McDonald says:

      Shaun Evertson's got pretty good perspective on this. I disagree slightly with him, as TOTAL phase-out of agriculture subsidies would leave nothing for the many farmers who can't irrigate to fall back on in the event of natural disasters like drought (which is prevalent this year). It's not simply a matter of farmers "re-entering the free market", which is somewhat fallacious. Most farmers are responsible and good stewards of their land, since, after all, it's their only source of income. That is why conservation programs that encourage crop rotation and allowing land to rest (fallow) exist. Some crops in particular strip the soil of its nutrients faster, and therefore they can't be farmed continuously on a piece of land. The wise and responsible farmers will switch them out with other crops periodically and occasionally allow a brief period of fallow ground to allow the plant matter from a previous year to be re-absorbed and restore the soil with nutrients. This is a matter of being focused on the future impact on yield and efficiency and not being short-sighted.

      Now, for those who have been fallow for many years with no activity, that's obviously abuse of the system. However, they are in the very small minority. So many conservatives are far enough removed from the agricultural lifestyle that they truly do miss the big picture when it comes to farm subsidies. If only 2% of Americans farm, and many of their own children are not picking up where they leave off, that leaves our nation dangerously dependent on 3rd world countries and countries like China and Brazil for food and fibers like cotton. After a year like this one, with drought and high temps across the country, if there were no subsidies, that percentage would be microscopic compared to the current 2%. Farmers are often vilified because it seems like they earn ridiculous amounts of money. True, when they sell their harvest, the one-time-a-year paycheck received from that sale to the markets might seem hefty. However, for forward-looking farmers, the lion's share of that income gets poured straight back into the soil in the form of preparation, efficient equipment and upkeep, seed, fertilizer, fuel, and harvest. It's never for much profit. Subsidies HAVE been reduced from year to year with healthy (for the most part) pressure from those of us who are fiscally conservative. But if you eliminate them entirely, don't expect to get cheap, US grown food and fiber. Prepare to depend on another country for that, just like we do with oil.

    9. Bobbie says:

      we have to realize farming and it's rules has extended under government rules for government. America has a populace in immigrant farming who's farming isn't the same and may not be under the same rules as it seems wherever the government is the government corrupts for special interests of government.

    10. shaun evertson says:

      There's no doubt that Americans have benefited hugely from government ag policy. While farmers get a few dollars per capita, the 98 percent of non-farming Americans receive an equal, or in many cases, greater payout in inexpensive, safe, and nutritious food. We spend less on food in this country than anyone else in the world, and the quality and safety of our food is second to none.

      When you spend less on food, you have more discretionary income. This is exactly the same as a cash payout.

      I don't propose to do away with the USDA. Like every other government agency, it should be trimmed to the bone — to the point where it can provide essential services such as food inspection. But just as NASA has no business making the Muslim world feel better about itself, neither does the USDA have any business handing out cash to those who don't need it.

      Ideally, a timed phase-out of direct and countercyclical payments would allow the development of private sector solutions to to the threats of disaster and crop failure. In my mind this would be as step in the right direction.

      But we must also keep an eye on the big picture. While some, but not all, farmers receive payments, the aggregate of subsidy payments is dwarfed by the USDA dollars spent on food assistance programs. This, in turn, is dwarfed by the total spent to provide unemployment insurance for the 8-15 percent (take your pick) of out-of-work Americans.

      In addition, more federal dollars are spent on education than on the entirety of the ag program. Students are demonstrably graduating from high school and college with less functional knowledge each year, while food quality improves and real hunger is nightmare of the long past.

      Here's a link to a closer study of the Farm Bill.
      http://prairieadventure.blogspot.com/2012/06/farm

      • Mike, Wichita Falls says:

        I wish we could all agree on the "essential services" of each department, but I won't hold my breath. Perhaps food inspection was all the USDA did originally, but it has been subjected to 80 years of politicians adding their pet projects and do-gooder programs to the point of today's waste, fraud, abuse and vote-buying. Maybe the best thing is complete elimination. Could not the state DAs adequately inspect food produced for the public? Don't state politicians care about food quality as much as federal ones, if not more, since they live closer to and interact more with their constituents?

    11. SUEK says:

      2 points:

      My understanding is that fully 80% of the USDA budget is allotted to food stamps.

      Secondly, some of the land bank payments are for environmental purposes, but they also serve the purpose of supporting prices of various crops like wheat and corn. The government has price supports for these grains, and in order to reduce production in certain years (to minimize surpluses which the government would also have to buy and store) the government offers payments to farmers _not_ to produce those crops. Some farmers can switch to different crops, but some are unable to due to climatic conditions.

    12. Rob says:

      I use to work for this outfit 40yrs ago and it was called The Farm Set Aside Program…..go figure

    13. guest says:

      Congress needs to be prohibited from engaging in the selective agricultural investment and profit guaranteeing business. Their sorry record of targeting select farmers with highly discriminatory multimillion dollar investment/profit guaranteeing policies has destroyed countless rural communities by neutering the ability of smaller farmers to compete. To guarantee that the largest and obviously potentially most profitable business always will have a vastly superior incomes renders the smaller farmers incapable of competing in this highly competitive business. If congress is going to be involved in the safety net business all farmers are equally deserving of comparably valued safety nets.

    14. guest says:

      Federal crop insurance is one of the most destructive economic weapons congress has ever unleashed against smaller farmers as they cannot compete with the multimillion dollar investment/profit guarantees the government is giving the larger farmers. The government guaranteeing the largest the most profits guarantees the continued demise of our rural communities. Congress providing safety nets without limits is like the government guaranteeing Walmart's investments as well as providing Walmart with multibillion dollar profits. When government assumes all risks, farmers have no reason to budget for risks and are encouraged to bid land costs still higher guaranteeing still greater costs to the federal government.Total insanity – congress helping the most those who have the most assets and income. The billions of insurance subsidies as well as the billions in investment/profit guarantees are capitalized into higher land values dictating that for all practical purposes that only those that are the top feeders of this insurance scheme are able to compete for land in the farming business. Congress is stealing from generations of poorer Americans any chance of competing in the farming business due to this extremely discriminatory insurance scheme.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.

    ×