Corporate Ag Tries to Justify Hogging Government Subsidies 
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 Corporate Ag Tries to Justify Hogging Government Subsidies
Corporate Ag Tries to Justify Hogging Government Subsidies

Most Farm Subsides Go to a Few

Las Vegas SUN

Almost two-thirds of the $27 billion in federal farm subsidies doled out
last year went to just 10 percent of America's farm owners, including
multimillion-dollar corporations and government agencies, a review of
Agriculture Department records by The Associated Press shows.

Rules that base subsidy payments on farm acreage, rather than financial
need, mean that taxpayer money flowed to people like media mogul Ted
Turner, pro basketball star Scottie Pippen and an heir to the Rockefeller
fortune. They also mean some of the wealthiest members of Congress received
aid from farm programs they voted for.

At least 20 Fortune 500 companies and more than 1,200 universities and
government farms, including state prisons, received checks from federal
programs touted by politicians as a way to prop up needy farmers. Subsidies
also went to real estate developers and absentee landowners in big cities
from Chicago to New York.

Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Senate Agriculture
Committee, called such examples an "embarrassment, a black eye that can
only undermine public and taxpayer support for the programs."

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation's largest farm group,
supports the rules, passed by Congress since 1996. But many individual
farmers and other critics question a system that gives the country's
biggest farmland owners the fattest checks.

"There have to be limits," said Mike Korth, who received about $73,000 in
payments last year to help keep his Nebraska corn farm afloat. "Why are we
giving millions of dollars to millionaires?"

Government aid made up almost half of total farm income nationwide last
year, most of it parceled out through programs aimed at making sure farmers
don't go under when the price they get for crops is not enough to pay their
bills. But recipients don't have to be cash-strapped farmers, or even
farmers at all. The subsidies flow to anyone with a stake in farmland and
the crops that land produces.

The AP analysis of more than 22 million checks sent out by the Agriculture
Department in fiscal year 2000 shows that 63 percent of the money went to
the top 10 percent of recipients, including many that don't fit the image
of the struggling family farmer.

That's how the heirs of billionaire John R. Simplot, a retired tycoon worth
$4.7 billion by Forbes magazine's last tally, received $167,000 in aid
through the family's Idaho farming empire. A trust in Simplot's name got
another $92,000.

Though J.R. Simplot Co. of Boise recorded $2.7 billion in sales last year,
not all the Simplot farms do well, family spokesman Fred Zerza said.

"Each of these farm operations is a separate entity that has to stand on
its own, and farming has been a tough business lately," Zerza said.

In the last three years, with prices for corn, rice and other crops
tumbling to near-record lows, Congress passed a series of bailouts, sending
billions of dollars in extra aid to rescue farmers from mounting debt,
foreclosure and bankruptcy.

The result? Farm subsidies that politicians predicted would decline under
the so-called Freedom to Farm bill of 1996 instead exploded.

Of the 1.6 million farm aid recipients last year, the average recipient got
about $16,000. About 57,500 recipients got more than $100,000, and at least
154 got more than $1 million. Because recipients can receive payments under
several different names, it is likely there are many more who passed the
million-dollar mark.

Mary Kay Thatcher, a lobbyist for the American Farm Bureau Federation,
argues against limits, saying big farms take bigger risks, log higher
expenses and produce more of the crop.

"It's not like these guys are getting rich from government payments,"
Thatcher said. "They've had to have them in order to survive."

Yet among last year's recipients are people, companies and organizations
that clearly did not need taxpayer handouts.

In New York's Hudson Valley, former Chase Manhattan Bank chairman David
Rockefeller, grandson of famed oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, received
$146,000 in subsidies. Employees said the money goes into running the
family's 3,000-acre farm, not into Rockefeller's pocket.

Agriculture Department records show checks sent to at least 20 Fortune 500
companies, including IBP, Chevron ($100,770), Archer Daniels Midland
($17,793) and Caterpillar ($59,184).

"The price support program is to encourage production of the crops, and we
are just as much a part of that program as anyone else," said spokesman Ed
Spaulding of Chevron, which hires tenants to farm some of the oil-bearing
land it owns in central California and then collects crop payments to
maximize its return on the property.

U.S. Rep. Doug Ose, R-Calif., a developer ranked 22nd on Roll Call
magazine's list of the richest members of Congress with a net worth of
$12.5 million, owns part of two companies that got about $149,000 in rice

Ose, who sits on the House Agriculture Committee, gave up his
decision-making roles in the two companies when he took office, spokesman
Yier Shi said.

Scottie Pippen, whose Portland Trailblazers contract pays him about $14
million a year, received $26,000 for growing hardwood trees on an
environmentally sensitive plot in his native Arkansas. When Pippen bought
the land in 1993, it already was enrolled in the conservation program,
according to USDA records.

And Ted Turner, one of the largest private landowners in the United States,
and Turner's companies collected at least $190,000 in subsidies last year
for ranches he owns in Montana, South Dakota and Florida.

Russ Miller, manager of Turner's farm and ranch companies, based in
Bozeman, Mont., said more than half the subsidies his boss got were for
conservation programs and added that Turner has spent millions of his own
money on such projects. "We feel there is a public good from what we are
doing on our farmland," Miller said.

At least $17 million in crop subsidies went to government agencies of all
stripes - airports, wildlife departments and prisons. Colleges and
universities got another $6.3 million on research crops or farmland
bequeathed by benefactors.

Montana received $5.4 million for land set aside for the state in its
constitution to help pay for public schools. Montana's Department of
Natural Resources partners with tenant farmers, then shares in the
subsidies paid for the crop. Louisiana was among at least 14 states to get
subsidies on crops grown by convicts on prison farms.

The House Agriculture Committee already has endorsed a package that funnels
more money into the existing system and adds some new subsidies, but
critics say it does not curb payments to mega-farms or the rich.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman has said only that the Bush
Administration will offer Congress guidelines for "ensuring a strong income
safety net, pursuing a more market-oriented U.S. farm policy and opening up
new trade opportunities abroad."
Science is not belief, but the will to find out.

Sun, 07 Mar 2004 07:32:42 GMT
 [ 1 post ] 

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