Posted on April 4, 2012 at 1:18 PM by Iowa Corn
The word subsidy immediately sounds negative whether you understand the history, reason, or the industry. In agriculture, it began as a safety net in the 1960’s to make sure Americans could enjoy affordable food.
The original intent of U.S. farm subsidies was to provide economic stability to farmers to ensure a steady domestic food supply for Americans and that is what they have accomplished, but somewhere along the long disconnected line from farming, farm support programs became something politically ugly.
In the 1930s, about 25% of the population lived on 6,000,000 farms. By 1997, and still today, 157,000 large farms accounted for 72% of farm sales, with only 2% of the U.S. population residing on farms.
Congress dictates the amount of farm subsidies through The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 or more commonly called the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill provides about $299 billion for rural issues such as nutrition, energy, conservation, rural development, and subsidies. More than 90 percent of agriculture subsidies go to farmers of five crops — wheat, corn, soybeans, rice, and cotton, then it is split between about 800,000 farmers and landowners. From 1995-2009 the largest 10 percent of farmers received not more than $29,000 and the bottom 80 percent of farmers received an average total payment of $8,682 according to government records.
Money in and money out is not equal. Today, support payments to farmers represent less than one half of a percent of the total federal budget, yet the agriculture industry supports one-sixth of the economy. The total United States Department of Agriculture budget for 2010 was 1.48% of the total federal budget with only a fifth of that going to farm support payments. Whew, not a numbers person? Basically, farmers receive less than a third of a percent of the total budget, but they give significantly more to help keep the U.S. economic engine running!
My husband’s family farms and I am thankful that they are willing to do the hard work so I can swing by the grocery store on my way home and pick up dinner. Farm support programs or those negatively coined, “subsidies” not only keep farmers in business, but they also help stabilize food prices, and improve local or rural economies. I can attest that subsidies are not a get rich scheme for farmers. I don’t know how many family vacations, new cars, new clothes, dentist and doctors appointments, and other “non-essentials” my husband did without so that his family could continue to make sure they produced a crop. As a consumer, I am thankful our government had the sense to create a safety net, you can call them farm support payments, you can call them subsidies, but the only people getting rich are Americans benefiting from a rich tradition of farmers producing plenty of food, fuel, and fiber for the rest of us.
Mindy Williamson is the communications and public relations director for Iowa Corn. She grew up on an acreage, raising various 4-H livestock projects and tormenting her younger siblings. Mindy has a degree from Iowa State University in BPMI with an emphasis on botany and has worked in ag communications for almost 15 years. Mindy, her husband, Kevin, and their two children, live close to his families’ farming operation where they get in the way whenever possible.