About the 2002 Farm Bill

QUICK FACTS:

  • The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, signed by President Bush on May 13, 2002 replaces the 1996 Freedom to Farm law.
  • Whereas the 1996 policy intended to wean farmers from government subsidies by gradually reducing them, the 2002 farm legislation increases agriculture spending by 78 percent -- or $83 billion spread over 10 years -- while increasing by two-thirds the subsidies for large corn, wheat, rice and cotton farmers. The bill institutes payments to peanut farmers and restores price supports for wool and mohair.
    (Source: Washington Post)
  • The bill provides funding for agricultural research centers, forest programs, nutrition programs, rural development projects and school meals for poor children. But the bulk of the increased spending goes to the producers of basic commodity crops.
    (Source: Washington Post)
  • The 2002 farm bill will cost the average household more than $200 in taxes every year for the next 10 years. (The $200 figure is based on calculations by the Heritage Foundation in combination with revised government estimates putting the total cost of the farm bill at $190 billion.)
  • The bill provides $12.9 billion in new conservation spending over the next six years. But according to a Sierra Club press release, these figures are deceptive, because much of the new spending will be used to help livestock factory farms manage the massive amounts of manure they generate. "This Farm Bill transforms EQIP, a program that helps farmers protect drinking water, into a multi-billion dollar give away to a few industrial-type livestock companies," said Carl Pope, Sierra Club's executive director. Click here for more reaction to the 2002 farm bill from environmental groups and the media.

As the debate on a new Farm Bill began, most farmers had lost faith in the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act and emergency spending legislation. While Congress dealt out record high crop subsidies under these laws, USDA countered that much of them may actually be helping corporate sized farms buy out their smaller neighbors — the very farms Congress was trying to save (USDA “Taking Stock for the New Century,” page 6).

With this realization came pronouncements from many Midwest legislators that crop subsidy reforms were needed, such as capping subsidies to the largest of corporate agribusinesses. Moreover, as other legislators from around the country discovered on EWG's farm subsidy database how little farm bill support their farmers were getting, they also vowed to push for reform -- mainly by pushing for funding increases to the farmland conservation programs.

Throughout the farm bill debate, newspaper editorial pages and the public clearly favored reform. And, the Senate actually listened by passing legislation that held promise for making the situation better. However, when legislators went behind closed doors to negotiate the final version of the legislation in conference, they bowed to pressure from "status quo" agribusiness lobbyists, leaving major reform efforts on the cutting room floor.

Who benefits from the 2002 farm bill?

The same people who have always benefitted -- the top 10 percent of the biggest farms, mostly large corporate sized agribusinesses that need taxpayer money the least, will continue to collect at least two-thirds of the $125 billion budgeted for crop subsidies over the next ten years. EWG will continue to post subsidy data on its website to show the continuing trend.

Who is left out?

According to U.S. Agricultural Census data, more than 60 percent of U.S. farms do not grow any of the ten subsidized crops (primarily grains and cotton), so they won’t benefit from crop subsidies.

Farmland conservation programs benefit all farmers and landowners, but especially those who operate medium to small sized farms. Unfortunately, Congress shortchanged these programs— only 23 percent of total farm spending, which could total about $171 billion, was devoted to them. While Congress provided a modest increase, many expect it will be outstripped by heavy demand from farmers and landowners around the country. For instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture already has a growing $2.5 billion backlog in applications for farmland conservation assistance.

What's the net effect?

By devoting so much taxpayer money to subsidizing corporate sized farms that already overproduce grains and cotton, the crop subsidy programs will continue to spur too much production, depress crop prices and further concentrate farm ownership in the hands of a few. Congress missed the opportunity to enact real crop subsidy reforms and make the conservation programs an integral part of assisting all family farms accross the country.

From Environmental Working Group

USDA Information on the 2002 Farm Bill and Impacts
From USDA's Economic Research Service

USDA Information on selected programs and the 2002 Farm Bill.
Farm Service Agency (FSA) Fact Sheets