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EWG releases farm subsidy payment list

Agriculture.com Staff 06/12/2007 @ 2:27pm

A web site, developed by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) from millions of previously unpublished USDA subsidy records and released Tuesday, provides expanded disclosure of federal farm subsidy beneficiaries.

The disclosures include individuals whose subsidy benefits pass through one or more plantation-scale farm businesses that produce subsidized cotton, rice and other crops. On the list are businesses that receive millions in USDA crop subsidies each year, and according to the new USDA data, pass six-figure benefits through to many people, according to an EWG press release.

Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said that in many cases, these individuals have not previously had subsidy benefits attributed to them by name.

"While two-thirds of U.S. farmers receive no farm subsidy payments, American taxpayers have been writing farm subsidy checks to wealthy absentee land owners, state prison systems, universities, public corporations, and very large, well-heeled farm business operations without the government so much as asking the beneficiaries if they need our money," said Cook.

Cook added, "Even if you live smack in the middle of a big city, type in a ZIP code and you'll find farm subsidy recipients. Surely we can come up with a smarter investment portfolio for agriculture and rural America than the list of 1.5 million subsidy beneficiaries we are publishing today," Cook said. "America's farm subsidy system is broken. It's time for change."

The new data shows that farm program benefits are highly concentrated in the hands of a small minority of subsidized individuals and operations, with the top 1% of beneficiaries claiming 17 percent of the crop subsidy benefits between 2003 and 2005. Their average benefit was $377,484 per person for the 3 program years or over $125,000 apiece annually. As a point of reference, the average adjusted gross income within the ZIP codes of those same top recipients was $45,853 in 2004 (the latest year for with IRS provides data from tax returns by ZIP code).

NCGA LEADER REACTS

Ken McCauley, National Corn Growers Association president, said the report makes the payments look as bad as possible, when there is a lot of good they have done.

"When a non-farmer person looks at how much a farmer received in payments, he/she doesn't know the adverse conditions that went along with that," McCauley said. “Plus, I wish they would concentrate and differentiate just who is a real farmer.”

McCauley said the EWG database should have no impact on the development of the 2007 farm bill.

"There's no more ammunition in this database than is already out there," McCauley said. "My whole point is, if you are going to highlight something, tell the whole story. A producer hit by Hurricane Katrina had a real tough time, if they had corn to sell.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin Tuesday welcomed the information released by the Environmental Working Group, calling it "a tremendous tool for us to use in crafting the 2007 farm bill."

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