Abuse of farm safety net harms rural America


Each year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) makes billions of dollars in payments to farmers across the country. Farmers rely on this money as part of a safety net, which helps them mitigate risks involved with working in agriculture. Congress put in place common sense limits on farm program payments, but left damaging loopholes.

Currently, farmers are required to be actively engaged in farming to receive these payments. “Actively engaged” farmers should be on the farm or in the tractor, as well as investing in land, equipment, or providing capital for the farming operation.

Each corporation, LLC, or individual farmer meeting “actively engaged” eligibility criteria can receive payments. In 2015, USDA paid $3.7 million to one farming operation comprised of two individuals and 32 corporations. The operation reported that 25 members (plus 10 spouses) contributed active personal management, but no personal labor in the field.

Support for these large farming operations works against other USDA programs, like beginning farmer loans, rural development programs, and more. The positive impact from those programs is diminished when corporate agriculture is strengthened by excessive and unnecessary farm program payments.

Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be misguided to further drive farm consolidation, increase barriers for beginning farmers, and decrease the number of true family farms in our agricultural system. Instead, sound, effective payment limitations should be implemented and enforced to ensure taxpayer dollars aren’t funding the squandering of rural America.

Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.

By Cora Fox

Center for Rural Affairs