With the farm bill up for reauthorization in 2018, policymakers will soon have a chance to reassess farm subsidies and target the rampant waste and cronyism in our farm-support system.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) this week published the most recent update to their Farm Subsidy Database, which serves as a useful guide to illustrate who is and who is not benefiting from the current system. It confirms the trend seen over decades of aggregated data on farming subsidies: the most successful agribusinesses receiving the largest portion of federal farm subsidies.

EWG estimates that, between 1995 and 2016, farms that ranked among the top 10 percent of income received about 77 percent of “covered commodity” subsidies, or subsidies that cover corn and soybeans. To put that into perspective, these large-scale farms have an average household income of $1.1 million.

The Congressional Budget Office earlier this year projected that current farm subsidy programs would cost taxpayers an extra $7.5 billion more than originally projected. But rather than address those spiraling costs as part of its deliberations in the 2014 farm bill, Congress proposed cutting other programs, notably the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, which actually has proven to be less expensive than originally expected.

The current system represents outright cronyism. Congress has neglected proposals for pragmatic reform, with the ultimate effect of disadvantaging smaller and beginning farmers, who must cope with rising land prices and farm consolidation as the mega-farms get richer

Fortunately, EWG’s newly updated database is an incredibly reliable source for policymakers to acquire baseline information regarding farm subsidies. As the deadline to reauthorize the farm bill approaches, it is necessary to recognize their work as essential in the movement to reform federal agriculture programs and to quash agribusiness cronyism.

Image by Juergen Faelchle


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