Cuts in Agricultural Subsidies Gain Support

“Farm Subsidies: Sacred Cows No More” is the headline of the WSJ April 9 article. Agricultural subsidies, in a period where budget cuts are de rigeur, may no longer be sacrosanct, noted the article. With farmers making record profits, yet still getting heavily subsidized, some policy makers are setting their sights on direct payments to farmers of about $5 billion per year. Last year total farm subsidies were about $15 billion.

Corn farmers are the ones who benefit most, with about $2.1 billion of those direct payments going to them.

Even some industry organizations see the need for some cuts in agricultural support:

Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said the direct subsidies have become indefensible because they don’t go to farmers who need them to survive tough times.

Most of the payments go to the largest farmers in the U.S., given the amount of land they own. From 2002, when the program was expanded, through 2010, the top 10% of recipients received 67% of the funds, according to David DeGennaro, an Environmental Working Group legislative analyst.

What’s encouraging about the changing mood toward farm subsidies is that some influential policymakers are on board and are looking at agricultural support for some needed cuts.

Mr. Lucas of Oklahoma, the Republican chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said in an interview that direct payments were fair game for lawmakers looking to cut spending next year. He still wants to resist some cuts, a point of view he outlined in a March 15 letter to the House Budget Committee written with Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.). He didn’t specify what might be protected.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), however, suggested earlier this month that farm subsidies were a likely budget-cutting target. He didn’t specify which programs, but said, “Commodity price for farms, farm products have never been—never been higher than they are today. There’s money there.”