Agriculture has a bad taste in its mouth for the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the Washington lobbying organization that several years ago published USDA’s list of farmers and the amount of money they each received in farm program payments. EWG has been overtly working to eliminate direct payments, which are subsequently not being considered by either the House or the Senate to be included in the next Farm Bill. And with that apparent victory the next target is crop insurance, the primary risk management tool that remains for farmers to be protected from the vagaries of the weather, markets, and political disruption of international trade.
EWG wants to tell the public how much money every crop insurance policy holder is getting in USDA subsidies in an effort to place a cap on farmer benefits.
The Environmental Working Group has partially released the USDA’s data on crop insurance policies and the amount of subsidy in each, but was not given the identities of the recipients because of an Act of Congress. Railing against the Congressional decision, the EWG alleges that farmers with crop insurance “enjoy extraordinarily costly federal perks in the form of premium subsidies.” EWG says, “U.S. taxpayers pick up an average of about 62 percent of the crop insurance premiums for farm businesses. Their share of these premiums has soared from $1.5 billion in 2002 to $7.4 billion in 2011. The subsidies go to large operators with no conservation strings attached to protect water and soil, no means testing, and no payment limit on how much a farm business can collect.”
With that statement, one can quickly discern the ulterior motives of the group, which has positioned itself with major metropolitan media as an authority on agriculture, much like the Humane Society of the US (HSUS). But the current efforts of the EWG, within the current political and budgetary atmosphere of Washington, may have the ears of many members of Congress.
A particular objective that could have success is the call for a $40,000 limit on crop insurance premium subsidies to individual operations. That will affect many Cornbelt farmers who have been adopting crop insurance as a primary risk management tool with the attractiveness of various revenue options and program flexibilities. Congress authorized those at a time when it wanted to shift agricultural support programs toward participatory programs in which farmers share the cost of the premium with USDA; as opposed to direct payment or price support programs.