Collin Peterson and EWG agree on one thing: the next farm bill must be based on facts.

Unfortunately, Mr. Peterson’s February 24 column is filled with errors that ought to embarrass any accountant, especially one who used to be chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

First, Peterson claims EWG’s Farm Subsidy Database ignores changes to farm policy because EWG publishes farm subsidy data from “30 years ago.” In fact, we publish farm subsidy data from every year, including 2021, as quickly as we receive the data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If Peterson had visited the Farm Subsidy Database, he would have noticed that the top 10% of subsidy recipients collected 66% of all farm subsidies in 2021 – or more than $70,000 per recipient – while the bottom 80% of subsidy recipients received less than $2,500.

Second, Peterson claims that EWG attempts to “sensationalize things” by suggesting “if all farm payments in a county in my home State went to the general public, each person would receive X amount of money.”  That’s not correct. EWG calculates the share of subsidies collected by the largest subsidy recipients, not residents of each state. And here’s what the calculations reveal: the largest subsidy recipients receive most of the subsidies. In particular, Peterson complains that we include small family farmers (or “4-H students” and hobby farmers, as he puts it) in EWG’s calculations. Shouldn’t our farm safety net help the farmers in the greatest need of support? Perhaps accountants have a different take. 

Third, Peterson says “EWG claims” that farm subsidies benefit some crops more than others because payments are based on production. This is simply how some subsidies are calculated. As a result, payments to farmers who produce corn and soybeans make up 44% of commodity subsidies, while farmers who produce fruits and vegetables receive of 7% of these subsidies. While more crops are eligible for crop insurance subsidies, the results are largely the same: payments to farmers who produce corn and soybeans make up 56% of crop insurance subsidies, while farmers who produce fruits and vegetables receive 7% of these subsidies. 

EWG’s solution to the unique risks faced by farmers is not “tough luck,” as Peterson claims. EWG supports a farm safety net, including crop insurance subsidies. We always have. Like Sens. Chuck Grassley and Jeanne Shaheen, EWG thinks subsidies should be subject to reasonable limits, including payment limits and a means test. Providing unlimited subsidies to the largest and most successful farms has made it harder for small and medium-sized farms to compete with their bigger neighbors. Peterson asks “would EWG have USDA provide benefits to producers for losses they did not suffer or deny producers help on losses they did suffer?” Absolutely not. But a farm safety net that pays some farmers two or three times for the same loss makes no sense. 

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Finally, Peterson suggests EWG “opposes conservation programs.” This is nonsense. No organization has fought harder for the conservation title of the Farm Bill than EWG, fighting to preserve the conservation title in 1996 and fighting to expand the conservation title in subsequent farm bills. Thanks to great leaders, including current Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Sen. Debbie Stabenow, USDA conservation spending has significantly increased. 

Should we improve the conservation title of the Farm Bill to make reducing greenhouse gas emissions a bigger priority from voluntary conservation programs like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)? Emissions of nitrous oxide and methane form agriculture account for a growing share of U.S. emissions, but our farm programs have not been updated to reflect the challenges posed by climate change or to reward farmers who want to help. In particular, the CRP has not been modernized in nearly 40 years and is ripe for reform

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but they are not entitled to their own facts. That statement, first uttered by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has never made more sense. 

Scott Faber is the senior vice president for government affairs for the Environmental Working Group.

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