Disconnect down on the hog farm

I meant to post a quick note last week about Environmental Working Group’s new and improved Farm Subsidy Database. EWG credits “USDA’s compliance with Section 1614 of the 2002 farm bill, which required the department to track farm subsidy benefits through myriad farm businesses to the ultimate beneficiaries” for the new data, but other new features also make this one-of-a-kind resource even more useful–for example, a tie-in to Google that allows you to see the location of farm subsidy recipients in your own neighborhood. (No, it doesn’t matter if you live in an urban area–so do subsidy recipients. After all, they can afford it!) Some highlights from EWG’s findings:

* The top 1% of beneficiaries received 17% of the crop subsidy benefits between 2003 and 2005. Their average benefit was $377,484 per person for the 3 program years or over $125,000 apiece annually. * The top 10% of beneficiaries receive 66% of the Title 1 farm program payments, with an average payment of $148,077 over 3 program years. * The bottom 80% of beneficiaries received only 16% of the Title 1 farm program payments, with an average payment of $4,508 over three program years. * 19 congressional districts (of 435) accounted for half of federal crop subsidies paid between 2003 and 2005. * The new data show that despite that detail, EWG and, for that matter, USDA itself, have been unable to track over one-third of all subsidies to their ultimate beneficiaries – until now. Some 350,000 people who previously have not been identified as direct recipients of federal farm subsidy money by EWG have actually been the beneficiaries of almost a third of the $34.75 billion in crop subsidies provided by American taxpayers between 2003 and 2005 alone.

And EWG added to their previous research on irrigation subsidies with a report last month on energy subsidies in California’s Central Valley Project (CVP):

* In 2002 and 2003 CVP agribusinesses paid only about 1 cent per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for electricity used to transport irrigation water. * CVP power rates were 10 to 15 times lower than PG&E’s industrial, agricultural, and residential power rates during this time period. * In 2002 and 2003 CVP agribusinesses received power subsidies worth $115 and $105 million, respectively, when compared to PG&E’s agricultural electricity rates. * The power that the Bureau of Reclamation sells to CVP agribusinesses for the storage and transportation of Project water is essentially unregulated. No government agency, other than the Bureau itself, oversees its rates. * One CVP water district gets more power subsidies than all others combined: Westlands Water District, which is dominated by a handful of large cotton growers in Fresno and Kings counties. In 2002 alone Westlands’ power subsidies were worth more than $71 million, an average of $165,000 per farm.

If I had posted the link to the new database when it was published, though, I would have been telling only half the story–because only two days later, EWG sent out the following petition:

I support EWG Action Fund’s efforts to increase funding for organic farming. I believe Congress should level the playing field for organic farmers….I urge our national leaders to include strong organics provisions in this year’s Farm Bill that will: Give organic farmers their fair share of my tax dollars for research on how to grow organic food. Help more farmers make the transition to organic farming. Level the playing field for the organic industry…

Eee-eie-eee-eie-ouch! Is that an appeal to double the size of the farm bill? EWG maintains a database that helps to put a dollar figure on that otherwise vague feeling that we taxpayers are getting ripped off–yet some (including, apparently, folks at EWG) just see it as a tool to advocate for equal opportunity at the trough.