Varieties of federal farm subsidies

"David believes this is a system that's in need of reform," Johnson said, adding that his boss is unlikely to accept any more subsidy checks. --- Scripps Howard News Service, Nov. 16, 2007,

The terrible news about flagrant misappropriation of farm-subsidy funds begins:

"Even billionaires get ag handouts" by Lisa Hoffman More than 50 American billionaires have received government farm handouts in recent years from a program created to help struggling small farmers survive. David Rockefeller alone received more than $50,000 from investments in farming between 2003-2005.

Evidence is heaped on that those poor struggling small farmers, whose 40 acres and their mules are now being swept away by a plague of billionaires in the following graphs:

In just two years, between 2003 and 2005, at least 56 of the richest people in the country have pocketed taxpayer-funded federal agriculture subsidies totaling more than $2 million, according to a Scripps Howard News Service analysis of a newly released U.S. Department of Agriculture database. Included in that roster are banker-philanthropist David Rockefeller Sr.; five members of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton's family; hotel czar William Barron Hilton; Microsoft co-creator Paul Allen; and nine members of the Pritzker clan of Hyatt Hotel fame...Estee Lauder cosmetics heir Leonard Lauder, for instance, received about $4,000 via his 5 percent interest in an Idaho organic dairy farm... Some of those recipients can be found in the Senate itself, where at least six of the 100 lawmakers have themselves received five-figure-or-higher farm subsidy checks... the most generous billionaire subsidy in the 2003-2005 span -- a total of $306,627.09 -- went to Whitney MacMillan, heir to the Cargill agribusiness dynasty. Forbes estimated his fortune to be about $1.2 billion...That billionaires are getting paid by a program -- created during the Great Depression -- intended to help small farmers stay on the land is the best evidence that wholesale changes are needed, critics said.

The sheer amounts of money being siphoned out of pockets of yeoman family farmers are devastating to our sense of the just disbursal of public funds. To make the point even more emphatically, the reporter calls upon the rightwing think tank, the Heritage Foundation, which brings the waitresses into the story.

"It is not within the nation's values to tax waitresses and welders to subsidize multimillionaires," Heritage analyst Riedle said. Whether the Senate will close the loopholes -- and whether those limits would survive a House-Senate committee that crafts the final bill -- is unknown. Senate agriculture committee chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, says reform is a matter of "basic fairness." "It is also a matter of recognizing that (the Agriculture Department) should not pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars -- or even well over a million dollars in cases (cq) -- to billionaires," Harkin said. "These are payments we can't afford, going to people who don't need them." Among those Harkin referred to are: Microsoft co-founder Allen, who got $39,932 worth of subsidies; brokerage bigwig Charles Schwab, $67,498; the Walton family, at least $8,800; and banker-philanthropist Rockefeller, who received $50,023 in subsidies. Worth an estimated $2.6 billion, Rockefeller is in favor of barring people like himself from getting the benefits -- and not because $50,000 is just pocket change for those in his economic bracket.

Horrifying! And that's not the worst of it. Consider a recent letter to the editor of the Fresno Bee concerning the number of farmers no longer alive that receive farm subsidies:

Letters to the Editor Fresno Bee July 27, 2007 Dear Sir or Madam, The U.S. Department of Agriculture gets my inept federal bureaucracy of the month award for writing subsidy checks to 172,801 dead farmers totaling $1.1 billion dollars during the period from 1999 to 2005. This gives new meaning to the term "buying the farm." All the sordid details are available in a report from the Government Accountability Office located at Nineteen percent of the deceased subsidy recipients had been dead for seven years or more, while a whopping 40 percent had been dead for three years or more. Even more troubling, someone undoubtedly alive signed and cashed those checks given the considerable difficulty the dead have in signing checks. There must be plenty of dead San Joaquin Valley farmers on the list given that we are the farming capitol of the nation. They must be chuckling somewhere in the Great Pasture in the Sky that they couldn't make any money while living but managed to generate some green after they were gone. Lloyd Carter

We have never really known what to think about farm subsidies, “farming the government,” as it is called. We know we live in one of the poorest county in California and that the median income here is about $36,000. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, tried mightily amid the dim for reform on the new Farm Bill to get more farm subsidies for our county -- for its specialty crops, not the old standard commodities inevitably described by California ag congressmen as "Midwestern." Perhaps it is impolitic in Congress to note that the top recipient state for farm subsidies is Texas, although lesser-ranked states are largely in the Midwest. California ranks tenth in the nation in farm subsidies. Using the Environmental Working Group Farm Subsidy Data Base, we can make some comparisons over the 10-year period from 1995-2005 that may shed more light on farm subsidies than provided by Scripps Howard. In that period, 1995-2005, Texas, the top recipient state, received $14.9 billion in all farm programs, as best EWG can figure. There are kinds of payments that were impossible to get from the USDA for that period. Iowa, the #2 recipient, received $14.8 billion. California, at the #10 position, received a mere $9.4 billion over that decade. The average payment for the top 10 percent of Texas recipients was $44,278. For Iowa, the average for that class of recipients was $36, 530. The top 10 percent of California recipients nearly doubled Texas as $82,160. Eighty-two percent of Texas farmers get no subsidies. The top 10 percent of subsidy recipients, however, get 76 percent of all subsidies. Thirty percent of Iowa farmers get no subsidies; and the top 10 percent of recipients get 55 percent of the total subsidy to the state. In California 91 percent of farmers receive no subsidy; the top 10 percent of subsidy recipients receive 73 percent of the state's total farm subsidy. The discrepancy in the numbers that most clearly reminds us of the San Joaquin Valley agricultural economy is a comparison of the spread of subsidy receipts of the top 20 recipients in each state. In Texas, #1 in subsidies, the top recipient received $8.8 million between 1995 and 2005. The recipient ranked 20th received $5.9 million. In Iowa, the top recipient received $3.7 million and the twentieth received $1.9 million. In California, the top recipient of subsidies over that decade, Sacramento-based Farmers Rice Coop, received $145.5 million and the twentieth received $5.9 million. Farmers Rice is the third largest recipient in the nation. The larger recipients are rice operations in Arkansas. Bringing it home to 18th Congressional District of California, represented by Cardoza, which is setting national records for the unaffordability of its real estate and for its foreclosure rates, we scanned the following list of the top 20 farm subsidy recipients in the 18th CD. We do not do this to embarrass anybody on this list. They are simply the most fortunate among 3,276 recipients of farm subsidies in this congressional district. And, despite the particular political vice of our region, radical personalization of everything political and economic, we realize that this is just their business as they will no doubt realize that the receipt of amounts of public funds of this magnitude is also the public’s business. Altogether, the 18th CD received $405.3 million in farm subsidies over that period. As shown above, in California there are districts that received much larger amounts of farm subsidies. In the 20th CD of California, represented by Jim Costa, D-Fresno, for example, 3,597 agricultural enterprises received $918.3 million. The second largest recipient in the state, J.G. Boswell Co., received $17.3 million over that decade. Nevertheless, the struggling family farmers of Merced County (19 of the top 20 subsidy recipients in the 18th CD) didn't do too badly. 1 Wolfsen Land & Cattle Co ✴ Los Banos, CA 93635 $11,578,112 2 Bowles Farming Company Inc ✴ Los Banos, CA 93635 $8,128,408 3 S J R Farming ✴ Los Banos, CA 93635 $4,905,868 4 Lewis Maiorino Ranches ✴ Dos Palos, CA 93620 $4,510,973 5 Koda Farms Inc ✴ South Dos Palos, CA 93665 $4,211,808 6 Coburn Ranches ✴ Dos Palos, CA 93620 $4,181,650 7 Roduner Farms ✴ Merced, CA 95340 $4,051,265 8 Teixeira And Sons ✴ Dos Palos, CA 93620 $3,924,198 9 David Santos Farming Los Banos, CA 93635 $3,794,937 10 Perez Farms ✴ Crows Landing, CA 95313 $3,725,288 11 A-bar Ag Enterprises ✴ Los Banos, CA 93635 $3,643,332 12 Murrieta Westlands Trust ✴ Los Banos, CA 93635 $3,513,904 13 Clark Properties ✴ Dos Palos, CA 93620 $3,191,165 14 Clark Produce ✴ Dos Palos, CA 93620 $2,974,472 15 Paul Goodman Dos Palos, CA 93620 $2,953,057 16 David Carlucci Farms ✴ Los Banos, CA 93635 $2,723,512 17 Edward And Nancy Silva ✴ El Nido, CA 95317 $2,700,308 18 The Pentagon Company ✴ Los Banos, CA 93635 $2,692,634 19 Gilardi Farms ✴ Los Banos, CA 93635 $2,607,833 20 Favier Farms ✴ Merced, CA 95340 $2,566,154 For anyone interested in learning more about the agricultural economy of our region, we suggest consulting, which breaks up the figures in ways friendly to many questions that occur. Our only thought so far is that this is a lot of federal pork mostly for cotton, much of it shipped to off-shore textile mills and garment manufacturers. These figures do not calculate the public costs of the federally subsidized water used to grow the cotton. This isn’t to say that American working people don’t need cheap clothing, milled and manufactured by people workers making much less than they make. But, as many have observed in the course of World Trade Organization debates and what is left of the debate on the 2007 Farm Bill, this may not be either a balanced or productive way to manage an economy. Farm subsidies of this magnitude are definitely a most direct means of managing an economy for the benefit of a small number of agribusiness enterprises rich enough to own as many members of Congress as they need to keep the pork barrel topped off. However, we know, because it has been famously reported in Congress that the San Joaquin Valley is poorer than Appalachia, that this public largesse to agribusiness has never resulted in widespread prosperity. Politically, it has meant that the price of entry into the political class in the Valley has been to climb in the pockets of federally subsidized agribusiness and its allies in finance, insurance and real estate development. The political static that comes from people wedged in those high pockets distorts reality, frequently persuades the public to act against its own interests, and produces local governments determined to conceal social, economic and environmental injustice. Shocked as we are by Scripps Howard revelations of billionaires making money off farm subsidies, we note that in this Valley billionaires and multi-millionaires have been made by farm subsidies. Badlands Journal editorial board