Big farmers feast on most U.S. farm subsidies

WASHINGTON, DC, September 9, 2003 (ENS): The biggest U.S. farmers are receiving an increasing share of federal farm subsidies, according to new data collected and released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).The findings come as the United States is preparing to negotiate agricultural policies - including subsidies - with trading partners at the World Trade Organization.

The organization finds that payment concentration is on the rise - in 1995 the top 10 percent of recipients received 55 percent of total subsidy payments, which totaled $3.98 billion. In 2002, the top 10 percent collected 65 percent of total subsidies, a share worth $7.8 billion.

Over the time period from 1995 to 2002, the top 10 percent received 71 percent of total subsidy payments.

These numbers are part of EWG's first major upgrade to its Farm Subsidy Database web site, which tracks more than 108 million payments by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that total $114 billion. EWG posted the updates today.

The group determined that from 1995 to 2002 some 80 percent of the $114 billion was paid to boost the incomes of crop and livestock farmers, 12.5 percent went to farmers and ranchers through conservation programs some 7.5 percent went for weather-related disaster programs.

Conservation's share decreased during this period, EWG explains, as funding to conservation programs remained level while commodity programs increased drastically - at a time when they were supposed to decline.

"Why should we continue to provide direct payments to the overwhelmingly largest producers of certain, favored crops? These data reinforce our view that more federal assistance, in the form of conservation program support, should be made available to farms of all sizes, regardless of what they grow," said EWG President Ken Cook.

EWG says the peanut quota buyout has been a taxpayer funded windfall for the largest quota holders. The top 10 percent of peanut subsidy recipients in 2002 collected 62 percent of the payments. The top recipients included John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance, which collected $2,124,760 in peanut subsidies in 2002.

The group reports that the dairy subsidy program is much more equitable than most commodity programs. In 2002, the first year the program took effect, the top 10 percent of recipients collected only 33 percent of the dairy subsidies.

EWG's updated site provides thousands of new analyses, including top-recipient listings and payment concentration analyses at the state and county levels, and within each major USDA program. EWG has also added, for the first time, information provided by USDA on ownership interests in subsidized farms.

The groups says its database is "by far the most detailed accounting of federal farm subsidy payments ever attempted." But EWG adds that gaps in USDA's data inhibits a complete understanding of the distribution of its payments.

For example, EWG was unable to trace most payments to individual recipients that were made through rice cooperatives that are listed as recipients of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies since 1995.

USDA has not revealed, and may not track, full recipient-level information for payments made to most co-ops, partnerships, corporations and other forms of business organization. In addition, payments assigned to recipients that are banks, state agencies, or Indian tribes also do not reveal individual recipients of subsidy payments.

EWG's Farm Subsidies Database can be found at

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