Watchdog Group Calls For Cap On Farm Subsidies

Some Farm Operations Received More Than $1M In Subsidies

More than 10,000 farming operations received federal crop insurance premium subsidies in 2011, ranging from $100,000 to more than $1 million each, according to an analysis just released by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, a watchdog group.

The study found 26 farming operations nationwide received subsidies of $1 million or more last year, including one farming operation in Indiana.

But the Environmental Working Group, which obtained the records through the Freedom of Information Act, told Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney the federal government will not release the names of the farming operations receiving the subsidies.

"American taxpayers have a right to know," said Chuck Hassebrook, executive director for the Center for Rural Affairs. "I think it's bad public policy to deny that information. Providing that information allows us to make more informed judgments."

Records show Indiana ranks among the top 10 recipients in crop insurance premium subsidies, with more than 1,170 recipients.

According to the EWG analysis, 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 increased from $1.5 billion in 2002 to $7.4 billion in 2011, according to EWG.

George Patrick, a part-time professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, said he is not surprised by the analysis.

"What this data shows is some of our farm programs, like crop insurance, have effectively become subsidies for the largest farms to drive their smaller competitors out of business, and (they are) keeping beginning farmers out of the industry by bidding land away from them,” Patrick said. “One payoff (of subsidies) is we have had a good supply of food at reasonable prices most of the time. The system is set up to be very productive."

The United States Senate will debate the 2012 Farm Bill, which will possibly include caps on crop insurance subsidies.

The Indiana State Department of Agriculture told RTV6 they have no authority over the process, which falls under federal legislation.

"Matters of this nature are decided by Congress, though given Indiana's strong agricultural standing, we certainly follow discussions that regularly arise pertaining to the farm bill," wrote Misty Livengood, spokesperson for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, in an email to RTV6.

When asked about the study's findings, Indiana's Republican U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar's office told RTV6 Friday the Senator is a "lead advocate in the Congress for reforming and eliminating farm subsidies" and supports efforts to end direct payments to farmers.

Donnelly's office also gave a statement.

Indiana's Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly's office told RTV6 the congressman has worked to reduce unnecessary payments in the 2008 Farm Bill.

"As Congress considers a 2012 Farm Bill, Congressman Donnelly expects to see further cost reductions while ensuring Hoosier farmers are protected against unforeseeable events and aren't, for example, put out of business by a streak of bad weather," wrote Meghan Kaler, press secretary for Congressman Donnelly, in an email to RTV6. "For generations, the agriculture industry in Indiana has driven our economy and strengthened our local communities by growing crops and raising livestock to feed the world and by employing thousands of Hoosiers. We need to ensure that our agriculture community continues to thrive."

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