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Farmers with Benefits

The perpetual subsidy machine.

Apr 29, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 31 • By ELI LEHRER
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Whatever function they once served, America’s producer-side farm subsidies no longer have any valid public purpose. The much-romanticized family farm is, for all intents and purposes, dead: The number of farms producing enough income to support a family (more than $100,000 in gross revenues) has declined every year since World War II. As of 2012, only about 400,000 commercially viable farms—less than three-tenths of 1 percent of all households—exist in the United States. The great bulk of subsidies flow—directly or indirectly—to wealthy people and agribusiness. The Environmental Working Group found that 26 businesses got over $1 million each in crop insurance premium subsidies during 2011 alone. Furthermore, many of the most promising sectors of the agricultural economy—boutique organic farms and wineries—are also those that receive the least support from the government.

Eliminating all farmer-side subsidies immediately may not be a realistic course of action. As the 1996 effort to phase them out has shown, even an agreement to do so may fall by the wayside. But America’s agricultural subsidies and price controls have well outlived any usefulness they may once have had. If they want to show they are serious about fiscal responsibilities, conservatives and liberals in Congress should get together and work to minimize the pointless largess that taxpayers now distribute to the nation’s farmers. 

Eli Lehrer is president of R Street.

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