EWG releases latest assault on farm program payments
By Sara Wyant
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
WASHINGTON, June 23 - Farm subsidy critics gained new ammunition in their attempts to dismantle farm programs today with the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) release of their updated farm payment database.
The data comes just one week after members of the House Agriculture Committee fended off most attacks to reform farm program payments as part of the agricultural appropriations bill and as the Senate Agriculture Committee meets today to discuss accountability and spending on farm programs.
The 2011 database tracks $222.8 billion in subsidies paid from 1995 to 2010. Initially published online in 2004, the EWG Farm Subsidy Database has logged 300 million searches. As much as farmers complain about release of their own data, many report that they also look up neighboring farmers to see how they compare. See EWG's 2011 Farm Subsidy Database: http://farm.ewg.org
The new data reaffirm that you still don't have to be a farmer to collect federal farm subsidies despite “reforms” cited by subsidy backers that were supposed to prevent absentee land owners and investors from receiving payments intended for struggling family farmers, says EWG.
“The so-called “actively engaged” rule adopted in the 2008 bill was designed to ensure that federal payments go only to those who are truly working the land. Despite this rule, subsidies still line the pockets of absentee land owners and investors living in every major American city,” the group pointed out.
In 2010, 7,767 residents of just five Texas cities - Lubbock, Amarillo, Austin, San Angelo and Corpus Christi - collected $61,748,945 in taxpayer-funded subsidies. Residents of Lubbock booked $24,839,154 in payments, putting it at the top of cities with 100,000+ populations that are home to farm subsidy recipients.
The phenomenon of urban residents receiving federal farm payments remains widespread and coast-to-coast. In Spokane, Wash., 1,224 residents cashed $10,580,181 in farm subsidy checks. In New York City, 290 farm subsidy recipients pulled in a total of $800,887, while 203 residents of Miami got $2,472,071. In San Francisco, 179 residents split $1,094,172, while 1,235 residents of Memphis got $4,009,874 and 1,146 people in Denver received $3,394,550. In Arizona, 1,205 residents of Phoenix, Mesa and Scottsdale divvied up $8,173,269 in payments.
See detailed maps of farm subsidy recipients in ten cities: http://www.ewg.org/agmag/2011/06/city-slickers-continue-to-rake-in-farm-payments
For the full list of farm subsidy-receiving cities with populations over 100,000: http://static.ewg.org.s3.amazonaws.com/pdf/cities_100k_pop.pdf
“We are sending handouts to Wall Street investors and absentee landlords instead of working toward creating a safety net for working farm and ranch families,” said EWG Senior Vice-President Craig Cox. “It's simply unjustifiable.” Cox manages EWG's agriculture programs from the organization's Ames, Iowa, office.
To no one's surprise, the largest farm operations that produce the most food still receive the vast majority of payments. From 1995-2010, just 10 percent of subsidized farms - the largest and wealthiest operations -collected 76 percent of all commodity payments, with an average total payment over 16 years of $447,873 per recipient.
EWG says that's “hardly a safety net for small farmers. Despite the “reforms” that supporters of the subsidy system claimed were incorporated into the 2008 farm bill, the top 10 percent of recipients still harvested 63 percent of commodity subsidies in 2010.”
Three of the largest longtime recipients of commodity crop subsidies continued to do well in 2010. California's SJR Farms raked in $565,798, Louisiana's Balmoral Farming Partnership banked $929,956 and Arizona's Gila River Farms received $781,901.
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