Environment group: Trump’s final year in office saw spike in farm subsidies

By: - February 26, 2021 8:12 am

An aerial view from a drone shows a combine being used to harvest the soybeans in a field at the Bardole & Son’s Ltd farm on Oct. 14, 2019 in Rippey, Iowa. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

President Trump’s administration spent $20 billion on farm subsidies in its last year, four times the level at the beginning of his term, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group reported Wednesday.

Much of that aid went to the largest farms, the group said.

EWG analyzed U.S. Department of Agriculture data, which included a variety of temporary programs.

Farmers were among those who received aid as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted grain, meat and ethanol markets. Aid also was distributed to cover some losses in the trade war with China.

The EWG report contended the data reinforce the group’s long-held belief that federal programs favor large-scale operations over family farms.

The report was issued just aTom Vilsack was confirmed and sworn in as U.S. secretary of agriculture under the Biden administration. Vilsack served in the same position throughout the Obama administration.

“The staggering amount of taxpayer dollars flowing to farmers last year did nothing for small farmers, who don’t have much of a safety net,” Anne Schechinger, EWG’s senior economic analyst, said in a statement. “Over time, federal agricultural subsidies have been a major contributor to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few in rural America. President Trump doubled down on these policies, somehow finding more money to throw at wealthy farmers and landowners.”

The report says 25% of subsidies went to the largest 1% of farm operations, up from 17% of subsidies in 2016. Farm subsidy programs send the highest payments to farms with largest area or production, the group said. 

USDA distributed $23.1 billion through the Commodity Credit Corporation last year, with data showing some farmers received more than they lost in the trade war, the report notes. Payments totaling $23.7 billion were made as part of pandemic-related aid, before the Biden administration froze them last month, EWG reported.

Since 2014, the government has spent $81.1 billion in temporary and permanent farm subsidy programs, the report noted.

EWG has pushed for stricter payment and income limits for the traditional program. The report also pushes for more spending on conservation programs, noting health and environmental benefits of the work, including reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Both President Biden and Vilsack have discussed expanding programs that would pay farmers to help sequester carbon in the land to help alleviate climate change.

This story was originally published by Iowa Capital Dispatch, part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity that also includes The Missouri Independent.

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman is senior reporter for the Iowa Capital Dispatch. He has nearly 40 years of experience in journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.