Farm Subsidies Destroying The Family Farm

In yet another installment of its to-date-excellent series on farm subsidies, the Washington Post shows that the very farm subsidies that proponents call necessary to protect family farms are, in fact, destroying them:

The cornerstone of the multibillion-dollar system of federal farm subsidies is an iconic image of the struggling family farmer: small, powerless against Mother Nature, tied to the land by blood.

Without generous government help, farm-state politicians say, thousands of these hardworking families would fail, threatening the nation’s abundant food supply.

“In today’s fast-paced, interconnected world, there are few industries where sons and daughters can work side-by-side with moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas,” Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said last year. “But we still find that today in agriculture. . . . It is a celebration of what too many in our country have forgotten, an endangered way of life that we must work each and every day to preserve.”

Reality, however, tells a far different story:

Today, most of the nation’s food is produced by modern family farms that are large operations using state-of-the-art computers, marketing consultants and technologies that cut labor, time and costs. The owners are frequently college graduates who are as comfortable with a spreadsheet as with a tractor. They cover more acres and produce more crops with fewer workers than ever before.

The very policies touted by Congress as a way to save small family farms are instead helping to accelerate their demise, economists, analysts and farmers say. That’s because owners of large farms receive the largest share of government subsidies. They often use the money to acquire more land, pushing aside small and medium-size farms as well as young farmers starting out.

Another government program that achieves the opposite of it’s intended purpose. What a surprise.

  • Keith

    I will never understand why folks who have probably never set foot on a farm or know what a “family farm” today really is seem to have all of the answers for agriculture. Who decided that a family farm had to be “small or medium” sized? Why can’t a family operating a farm as a business aspire to have a “large” farm? Our family farm encompasses over 1000 acres (which is large for our area), and I know family farmers who farm well over 10,000 acres.

    By the way… farm subsidies are not protecting farmers. They are protecting the American consumer, who has the CHEAPEST, SAFEST, and MOST ABUNDANT food supply than any consumer in any country in the world has EVER had.

  • Adam Selene

    The point, Keith, is that the farm subsidies don’t do what they will supposedly do. More importantly, the cost of food in this country is terrifically distorted by the various federal farm programs. The dairy industry is a very good example. The cost of milk, for the consumer, was reduced by more than 20 cents a gallon when a private producer broke the federal monopoly system via an available loophole in the laws. Of course, the big dairy interests and the Feds were not pleased and plugged the loophole. Milk prices went back up.

    I would be very surprised to find any cost savings to the consumer from your cherished subsidies.

    Oh, just for the record, my family has been farming and ranching in the Central Valley of California for over 100 years. I was raised on a family farm and worked it as a teenager. I didn’t find anything objectionable in Doug’s article. Why do I suspect that your profitability is based on subsidies?

  • Keith

    The dairy program is an EXCELLENT example of how the federal farm programs are more concerned with the consumer than the farmer. The dairy program is designed to keep enough farmers producing milk to ensure that little johnny and little janie each can have their milk at school. Therefore, there is a price support program in place that keeps dairy farmers just afloat in times of high supply / lower prices. The price does not get too high for affordability to the consumer, since there are more dairies operating than the free market would support. Yes, if you remove the programs, the consumer milk price MIGHT drop short term, but you would see in just the matter of a few years a drastic number of dairies going out of business, and as a result, milk shortages in places like the Southeast, where the margins are the tightest. Consumer prices would also jump substantially and become much more volatile.

    My “cherised subsidies” ?!? What?!? I have thought that the federal farm program has been a farce for years and years. My POINT in the previous post was not to defend the farm program, but to simply point out that the farm program is not intended as a farmer protection, but as a food security protection for the consumer. That has ALWAYS been the case. Why else would over 75% of the USDA budget be devoted to non-farm related programs? I also take issue with folks who want to keep the family farm in the the “American Gothic” stereotype, and is critical when a FAMILY farm practices good business and grows to the size necessary to accomplish it’s business goals.

    I don’t know why you suspect that my farm’s profitability is based on farm subsidies. Perhaps you are quick to judge and ASSume too much? Yes, our farm has participated in the farm programs, when it was adventageous to do so. It would be foolish not to. However, since 2000, our farm has received less than $2000 total in federal payments, and has received no payments for the past three years. The last payment received was cost share on a conservation practice (i.e. something that benefits the non-farmers downstream!)