USDA is being less transparent about who gets farm subsidies, the Environmental Working Group says in the latest update to its farm subsidy database.

“Farm subsidies are sent to banks instead of recipients to help pay off farmers’ operating loans,” EWG said Wednesday. “This is not novel in itself. But it is new for the USDA to give EWG the banks’ names instead of the farmers’ names in response to (Freedom of Information Act) requests.”

EWG said it noticed the change when USDA switched to a new reporting system in 2019 during the Trump administration. USDA now omits the names of recipients with operating loans from the data it shares.

USDA’s decision “inexplicably conceals the beneficiaries of almost $3.1 billion in taxpayer dollars between 2019 and 2021,” said EWG Midwest Director Anne Schechinger, a food and agricultural economist and author of the analysis. “This omission makes it impossible to know how many people would be getting such payments, what they’re growing and other information important for agency accountability.”

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USDA had no immediate response Tuesday to a question about the reporting practice. 

The top 10 financial institutions received subsidy payments representing 35% of all the payments to those institutions. The Farm Service Agency led the way with $346.7 million, followed by Agrifund LLC, which does business as Ag Resource Management, with $236.7 million.

EWG added subsidy payments to the database worth $44.12 billion in 2020 and $24.18 billion in 2021, information it received in response to FOIA requests. Between 1995 and 2021, federal farm subsidies totaled $478 billion, with 10% of recipients getting 78 percent of the money, and the top 1% receiving 27%, EWG said.

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