About Current Farm Subsidies

  • According to an argument advanced by the Heritage Foundation and other critics of the farm bill, U.S. farm policy "is based on the premise that a surplus of crops has lowered crop prices too far and farmers need subsidies to recover lost income. However, the federal government's remedy is to offer subsidies that increase as a farmer plants more crops. This creates greater crop surpluses, driving prices down even further and spurring demands for even greater subsidies."
    (Source: Heritage Foundation)
  • Farm policy that encourages overproduction has the effect of increasing total use of pesticides and fertilizers and contributes to declines in grassland ecosystems and many bird and other wildlife species that depend on them.
  • According to 1998 EPA data, agricultural pollution is the leading cause of water quality impairment in lakes, streams and rivers. Agricultural pollution is the fifth leading cause of water quality impairment in estuaries.
    (Source: U.S. EPA brochure - PDF)
  • USDA chemical reports show that farmers apply 40 billion pounds of fertilizer and about 500 million pounds of pesticides every year.
    (Source: Environmental Working Group analysis of USDA data)
  • Nutrients from fertilizers and manure travel from Midwest farm states down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, causing a massive "dead zone" on the Louisiana coast. The nutrients, including nitrogen and phosporous, trigger a process whereby excess algael growth and decomposition reduces oxygen levels in the water, killing fish, shrimp, crabs and other sea life in an area nearly 8,000 square miles in size. Farm fertilizers contribute 50 percent of this nutrient pollution. Livestock manure contributes another 15 percent and municiple and industrial sources account for 11 percent.
    (Source: American Rivers)

    Loss of Small Farms Hurts the Environment

  • Critics of U.S. farm policy say it rewards larger industrial-type farms and distorts land values, making it harder for small farms to compete and harder to start a successful small farm. Peter Rosset, executive director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy, wrote a backgrounder entitled "On the Benefits of Small Farms," arguing that the loss of small farms hurts society and the environment. Rosset also takes on the myth that small farms are "less productive" than larger farms. Excerpts:
  • "In the United States, small farmers devote 17 percent of their area to woodlands, compared to only five percent on large farms, and keep nearly twice as much of their land in 'soil improving uses,' including cover crops and green manures."
  • "Simultaneously, the commitment of family members to maintaining soil fertility on the family farm means an active interest in long-term sustainability not found on large farms owned by absentee investors."
  • "How many times have we heard that large farms are more productive than small farms, and that we need to consolidate land holdings to take advantage of that greater productivity and efficiency? The actual data shows the opposite -- small farms produce far more per acre or hectare than large farms."
  • "Integrated farming systems [employed by smaller farms] produce far more per unit area than do monocultures. Though the yield per unit area of one crop -- corn, for example -- may be lower on a small farm than on a large monoculture farm, the total production per unit area, often composed of more than a dozen crops and various animal products, can be far higher."
  • 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).


  • Washington Post: "Mr. Bush signed a farm bill that represents a low point in his presidency -- a wasteful corporate welfare measure that penalizes taxpayers and the world's poorest people in order to bribe a few voters"
  • Wall Street Journal: "Senate and House conferees this week unveiled their final farm bill, a 10-year, $173.5 billion bucket of slop that has even Washington agog....Where, we wonder, is the adult supervision?"


  • The goal of federal farm bills since the first one was passed in 1949 has been to help family farmers stay in business. But according to U.S. Agricultural Census data, more than 60 percent of U.S. small family farmers aren't even eligible for subsidies.
  • The number of millionaires receiving farm subsidies rose 28% when Bush took office, while Ken Lay saw his percentage of total farm subsidies rise by 400%. (Source: Taxpayer.net)
  • 71 percent of farm subsidies go to the top 10 percent of subsidy beneficiaries, almost all of which are large farms. In 2002, 78 farms, none small or struggling, each received over a million dollars in subsidies. The bottom 80 percent of recipients average only $846 per year. (Source: Environmental Working Group)

Examples of who is currently getting farm subsidies:

  • Archer Daniels Midland $36,305
  • Boise Cascade Corporation $11,024
  • Caterpillar $171,698
  • Chevron $260,223
  • Deere & Company $12,875
  • DuPont $188,732
  • Georgia Pacific $37,156
  • International Paper $375,393
  • John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance $125,975
  • Mead Corp $15,115
  • Westvaco Corp $268,740

Others receiving subsidies: Eli Lilly Co, Kimberly-Clark, Navistar, Pfizer, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co.


  • 65% of U.S. citizens oppose subsidies to large farming businesses, according to a PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll that was conducted with a nationwide sample of 1,896 respondents from December 19, 2003 to January 5, 2004.