By Farmer X
WASHINGTON (July 17, 2007)—According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), my operation received about $110,000 in farm program payments in the 2005 program year—a lot of money by many standards. The insinuation of this is that we are rich farmers, rolling in the dough provided by hardworking American taxpayers. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
That amount—one that was posted on a public website in what I believe to be a gross violation of my family’s privacy, and that of thousands of others—by itself ignores some harsh realities that farmers across the United States contend with every year:
- In 2006, my operation’s total expenses including land, equipment and inputs (like fuel, fertilizer, seed, insurance, labor, repairs and maintenance) equaled about $1.14 million.
- My crop revenue, including government payments, that year was about $1.3 million.
- Divided among the three family partners, each partner received about $53,000, before taxes, to live on and to service debt that remains from the many years where we didn’t do as well.
Now consider this: over the 20 years our partnership has existed, 2005 and 2006 were our third and fourth highest revenue years ever. In fact, crop revenue and program payments have only covered the cost of production in nine of the 20 years. Nearly half the crops we have produced have resulted in additional debt.
An annual salary of $53,000 is fairly good money compared to what many other Americans, rural and urban, take in each year. However, unlike most Americans who work for an hourly wage or on a salaried basis, my income comes, if at all, once a year. Moreover, even though we have to borrow more than $1 million each year to pay for expenses, some years that revenue comes in, and some it doesn’t.
While 2006 may have been good, some years we have had nothing, taking on personal debt to maintain the operation (like many farm families, we continue paying the bills with income from off-the-farm jobs).
I can’t count the number of times I have heard that farm income is at record highs and the debt-to-asset ratio in rural America is as good as it’s ever been, but neither of those figures takes the risk out of farming. No matter how well I manage my farm, things like the weather, rising input costs and commodity prices are beyond my control.
The American people – like people all over the world – rely on farmers like me to take the risk year after year to grow the commodities critical to feeding the world. The support a strong farm policy helps provides is essential for me to be able to stay in commodity production even when I don’t meet my expenses, much less make a profit.
So, am I really a “rich” farmer? Because I love my job, my lifestyle and my family the answer is an unequivocal “Yes!” But I don’t know many people, myself included, who ever get rich in financial terms on crop production.
We farm because that’s what we love doing. And we love helping feed Americans from coast to coast.
Editor’s Note: Farmer X shared his financial information on the condition of anonymity because, like most people who receive other forms of government support – like Social Security and food stamps – (no doubt those at EWG too), he prefers his financial information remain a private matter.