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EWG spotlights $1 million subsidies

DANIEL LOOKER 05/30/2012 @ 11:00pm Business Editor

In what could be a prelude to a Senate floor debate over crop insurance spending, the Environmental Working Group released a study Thursday that documents large subsidies to farms to lower their cost of buying crop insurance.

The USDA data, which EWG has analyzed over the past two weeks, shows that 26 policy holders benefitted from more than $1 million apiece in premium subsidies in 2011.  The state with the most million-dollar beneficiaries was North Dakota, with 5. Texas and Georgia each had 4.

According to EWG, the study is "the most detailed disclosure of federal crop insurance benefits to date, tracking subsidies across 686,273 insurance policies issued to 486,867 policyholders last year, when the program’s costs exceeded a record $11 billion."

"We were stunned when we went through these data," EWG president Ken Cook told reporters in a conference call Thursday.

Cook and others on the EWG staff say they believe that when members of Congress see the size of premium subsidies that some will be more likely to support amendments that would scale back spending on insurance subsidies, which have become the largest single USDA program benefiting crop producers.

The Senate is expected to vote on its version of a farm bill sometime next week. EWG staffers wouldn't say which senators are likely to introduce amendments to limit crop insurance, but they expect amendments to be offered that would reduce subsidies to the largest farms and that would require farmers to meet conservation standards in order to be eligible for crop insurance.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee who has long championed having strict limits on payments from other farm programs said Thursday that when it comes to limiting crop insurance payments, "It is kind of a conflict for me and I haven't settled that conflict yet."

But Grassley said he expects that when there is a debate on the Senate bill, "the biggest problem is going to be warding off attempts to weaken crop insurance."

"I'm going to plead, legitimately, that farmers are entitled to protection from natural disasters just like city people are," Grassley said.

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