It’s been a lively Farm Bill season, with a slew of anti-farmer amendments going down in flames. But one of farm policy’s most vocal opponents has been conspicuously quiet…until now.
The Environmental Working Group came roaring back this week with a new “study” that – true to form – breaks no new ground and is largely a recycling of old irrelevant data.
EWG essentially re-released their “farm subsidy database,” which is designed to publicly shame farmers for using farm policy to manage the unique risks they face. And EWG’s big conclusion is that farmers receive aid from the USDA, and some have seen farm policy benefits for 32 years.
That’s not news. It’s the law, and it has been the law since the 1860s when USDA came into existence.
And as a result, the U.S. is home to the most diverse and most dynamic agricultural sector in the world. Its support of farm families is minuscule compared to other developed countries. And U.S. consumers enjoy the most affordable food supply in the history of the world.
No one should be surprised that some multi-generational farms have received assistance of varying degrees for the last 32 years – including the conservation assistance that EWG favors.
And it shouldn’t be a point of criticism. That farms have survived the natural disasters and down markets of the past three decades is a testament to the endurance of farm families and the benefits of stable farm policy.
Instead of applauding this endurance, EWG throws out big, misleading numbers to try to shade the impressions of non-farm audiences (that’s why they added up more than 30 years of data). However, even EWG’s numbers are small in comparison to the amount of money these farmers put at risk each year to make a crop.
Based on USDA data over the same 32 years, for every $1 in assistance a farmer received, he or she spent $18 of their own money to make a crop, generating $23 in sales.
To see how that really translates, let’s take a closer look at one farm that EWG attacked for seeing $11 million in assistance over 32 years – that is $344,000 per year and apparently was the biggest number EWG could find.
This same farm family would have put $198 million of their own money on the line – that is $6.2 million per year at risk in each crop. And, the new crops and economic activity out of this investment would’ve equaled $256 million, or $8 million per year on average.
Is that bad policy? We don’t think so, and clearly our nation’s leaders, since our country’s beginnings, have not thought so either.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) eloquently summed up the problem with EWG’s analysis in an email to Farm Policy Facts:
EWG likes to aggregate data to confuse the facts, but we all know that farm policy looks vastly different today than it did in 1985. After significant reforms made in 2014, farm policy now only kicks in when commodity prices are in the tank and farmers are losing significant amounts of money. Let’s put things in perspective, farmers are expected to spend $360 billion in production expenses this year alone to raise their crops and livestock. The $5 billion in commodity program payments estimated this year is a pretty good investment for that kind of economic activity in rural America especially considering how far commodity prices have fallen.
The Chairman’s point about farm policy changes is an important one. And EWG conveniently ignores the fact that farm policy costs are trending down as a result of these changes.
A good measure of this is the same model used above. As noted, over the 32 year period EWG cited, for every $1 in taxpayer investment, farmers spent $18 and generated $23 of new crop sales. Over the last 10 years, that ratio has improved to $1 of assistance for every $28 in farmer expenses and $35 in sales. And over the last 5 years, every dollar has yielded $32 in farmer investment and $41 worth of crops.
It’s our view that farm critics like EWG should spend less time attacking rural America and more time figuring out how to achieve this kind of ROI on other federal programs.