The Truth about Farm Subsidies

Just Another Farm Policy Disaster

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted December 4, 2014

farmpolicydisasterFor years, I've been screaming from the rooftops about the dangers of the government's misguided farm policies.

Not only have these farm policies been a financial drain on tax payers, but they've also led to a massive drain on our natural capital. The degradation of healthy soil, much of the pollution in our rivers and streams and much of the destruction of our biodiversity can be traced back to irresponsible farming practices that are paid for by the government. Or rather, paid for by the money the government has pilfered from your paycheck.

A particularly deceitful element of U.S. farm policy is the existence of crop insurance. And as the good folks over at the Land Stewardship Project have pointed out, crop insurance has become …

A Massive Policy Disaster

In their latest white paper, “How a Safety Net Became a Farm Policy Disaster,” researchers write …

In recent years, subsidized crop insurance has expanded dramatically to become the country's biggest federal farm program. The federal government has increased funding for the program and more farmers than ever are participating. But instead of functioning as common sense risk management for all farmers, the current form of crop insurance funnels public dollars to the largest crop operations, enabling them to out-compete family farmers for land and other resources. It is highly targeted to promote the maximum production of a few commodity crops, and is biased against stewardship farming practices that are themselves proven risk management strategies. Crop insurance has become a primary vehicle for using public funds to concentrate agricultural wealth in our country.

Of particular interest to me is this section of the white paper …

Crop insurance's bias against diversity on the landscape has caused well-documented environmental problems. As national studies show, increased crop insurance subsidies encourage the farming of marginal land – acres too erosive, wet or otherwise fragile to raise a good crop on. By guaranteeing income no matter what those acres yield, there is no longer an economic brake on plowing up those acres.

The USDA's Economic Research Service studied land use changes after the government added revenue assurance and increased premium subsidies for crop insurance in the 1990s. It found insurance program changes increased cropland in production by an estimated one percent in 1997 alone, and much of that came on marginal land. While 25 percent of all cultivated cropland was classified as highly erodible in 1997, 33 percent of acreage put into production after crop insurance was changed was highly erodible land, concluded the USDA.

This creates a situation where the public pays twice: first to subsidize a monocultural method of producing crops, and then again to fix the damage to the environment caused by an over-reliance on this method of farming.

And how much has all this cost us? How's $58.7 billion grab you? That's what was spent on crop insurance from 2003 to 2012.

Unintended Consequences

Taxpayers for Common Sense has been particularly outspoken about crop insurance subsidies, noting that federal crop insurance is a highly taxpayer subsidized program that allows agricultural producers to shift much of their business risk onto taxpayers.

"Originally designed as a way to help producers recover from natural disasters, it has since morphed into an income guarantee program for the most profitable farm businesses. Primarily benefiting growers of only four crops (corn, soybeans, wheat, and cotton), crop insurance is now the most expensive taxpayer support for agriculture, outstripping all other agriculture safety net programs. It is a shining example of a government program filled with costly inefficiencies that detract from its goals and produce unintended consequences."

And here's something you should know, dear reader. Dusty, calloused hands are not being held out, waiting for these welfare checks. It's the soft, manicured hands of the whores who buy and sell your freedom in the halls of congress.

So in absence of completely dismantling the crop insurance program – which will never happen – we must fight this exercise in tyranny by supporting the real farmers out there. The ones that are busting their asses to produce good, sustainably-grown food without feeding off the government teat – and without fouling up the planet.  They get my business, not the state-sponsored industrial agriculture machine.