Look who’s back, back again. It’s the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and its anti-family farmer campaign. EWG’s latest faulty report is making the rounds, so it’s time to bust some #FarmPolicyFallacies.
For those not familiar with EWG, it uses an outdated and intentionally misleading “farm subsidy database” to gin up opposition to the farm policies that support U.S. family farmers and keep food on the table for all American families.
Let’s break down EWG’s misinformation campaign.
“[F]ederal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2021 totaled $478 billion.”
EWG notes right up front that its database includes outdated information reaching back to 1995. In other words, it includes payments made under programs that no longer exist and are no longer relevant to the Farm Bill discussion. Put in perspective, EWG is using outdated information from five Farm Bills ago that’s nearly 30 years old.
But let’s look at the numbers anyway. Between 1995 and 2021, the entire federal government spent more than $83.7 trillion dollars. That means that over those 26 years, even by EWG math, only about 0.5% of government spending went to government policies that support farm families and our national food security.
Current farm policies are critical to helping U.S. farm families navigate the risks of farming and compete with heavily subsidized foreign players, such as China. China has illegally subsidized its farm production and harmed U.S. farmers by tipping the global playing field in China’s direction. In 2016, China went over its World Trade Organization (WTO) limits by $100 billion in its support for just three crops: corn, wheat, and rice. That’s more than five times what the U.S. spent that year on the entire U.S. farm safety net.
But while EWG is looking at a 26-year span of data, let’s narrow that timeframe down. Last year, the entire federal government spent $6.272 trillion. Only $20 billion of that – or about 0.3% – was spent on farm policies, including conservation, crop insurance, and the farm safety net programs in the Farm Bill.
Most Americans would say that having the safest, most abundant, most affordable food supply in the world is worth this investment. And, for more perspective, $20 billion is less than what Americans plan to spend to celebrate Valentine’s Day tomorrow. (Not to mention, without the farm and trade policies that support America’s sugar farm families, Valentine’s Day certainly wouldn’t be anywhere as sweet.)
The EWG also purposefully ignores that farm families help fund their own farm safety net and are required to pay for crop insurance. Last year, farmers spent more than $6 billion of their own money to purchase crop insurance policies.
By our calculations, 0.3% of total federal spending on the farm safety net yields a great return on investment that allows Americans to spend less disposable income on food than anywhere else in the world and ensures our grocery shelves remain stocked with safe and healthy foods. The pandemic taught many of us to never take our national food security for granted.
“Most farm subsidies go… to the largest and wealthiest farms.”
It’s a trademark EWG move to discredit the farmers who produce our food. Full-time farm families in USDA’s “large” category make up just over 3% of all farming operations in the U.S., but are responsible for roughly half of total agricultural production. Again, these are family owned and operated farms. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s most recent “America’s Farms and Ranches at a Glance” report, 98% of farms in the U.S. are family farms.
About 84% of farms are small farms, where the operators describe themselves as retired, working in town but enjoying the farm as a hobby, or selling very little agricultural product, presumably because they don’t rely upon the income. This 84% accounts for about 10% of overall agricultural production. So, while federal farm policy is designed to support all production and all types of farms, it stands to reason that the families producing the bulk of goods would receive the bulk of support.
EWG tries to scare readers by claiming that farm families are hiding behind “elaborate farm partnerships” – known to the vast majority of Americans today as LLCs or C-corps or sub S corporations, normal ways of organizing any small business.
EWG also complains about transparency, stating that “farm subsidies are sent to the banks instead of the recipients, to help pay off farmers’ operating loans.” Putting aside for the moment that EWG is apparently unaware that many Americans use direct deposit these days without any hint of scandal, EWG’s assertion here actually serves to underscore something that EWG does not want you to know: farm policies are helping farmers pay off operating loans – not make them rich.
“[Farm programs] do little to help farmers prepare for floods, droughts, and other impacts of climate change.”
One of the most perplexing claims in this report is that the current mix of farm policies does nothing to help farm families address climate change.
Yet, if you dig into the data in its “farm subsidy database” – which is supposed to account for all of the bad farm policy spending – EWG includes conservation programs in its calculations, which in turn includes funding for – you guessed it – initiatives to halt climate change.
Ironically, these are the kinds of initiatives that EWG claims to support.
Not to mention, if you look at the USDA’s “America’s Farms and Ranchers at a Glance” report, “[s]mall family farms received 84 percent of all payments from USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which removes environmentally sensitive cropland from production.”
So, at bottom, EWG is castigating environmental programs that help combat climate change and help small family farmers.
EWG has always had a rare talent for double talk, but this time it’s outdone itself.