What is the justification for farm subsidies?

Other than corruption, essentially a bribe to the Senators of states that have a low population and a large farm lobby, how does “subsidizing” farms help anyone? (but the tiny percentage of the population who happen to be receiving the money) As I understand, there’s all sorts of price controls and artificial subsidies.

Aren’t markets supposed to be efficient? Wouldn’t having farming done by large, efficient farming corporations, so long as they didn’t grow so large to be a monopoly, produce the lowest cost crops? And wouldn’t allowing the prices to fluctuate with supply and demand produce the best balance of production vs consumption?

I mean, sure, this might mean that the price of milk or cornflakes would oscillate, but the average price would be lower. And the government would save money overall on it’s various food stamp and snap programs - though I suppose that oscillating prices would make this kind of program harder to run because the budget needed to give families for a given “basket” of goods would rise and fall.

I believe the primary function is buying votes. That said, I know I feel more comfortable in a country ( and for that matter, state and county) that is a net surplus producer of food. If the shit ever hits the fan on global trade, (war, SARS, Venezuela-type clusterfuck, stuff I can’t even think of) we at least are less likely to starve. I believe likelyhood of such is very low, but I still feel better. So I don’t mind at least some level of subsidy. But when it changes the fuel I have to use just so we grow more ethanol corn, it probably has metastasized beyond useful scope.

Farm subsidies keep prices relatively stable and farmers in business through both good and bad years, ensuring that we continue to be the largest producer of food on the planet.

i was walking down the road on day… I met a farmer with a very cured bill on his hat looking into his mailbox…

i asked him…“why is your bill on your hat so curved?”…

His reply… “I was looking for my government check!!!”

Well as the US doesn’t and possibly has never held that crown (China produces more food, Indian produces more calories, sometimes more food) does that mean you are open to re-evaluation?

The US certainly dominates food exports so it’s your tax dollars are going into the pockets of Big Agribusiness so they can export cheap food in volume which keeps your international customers poor and less able to buy your industrial production which is where the bulk of the US employment is.

It’s not about smoothing temporary fluctuations, subsidies have been growing steadily for decades. It’s a structural requirement for some types of farming that would never otherwise be profitable.

You seem to think it’s self evident that it’s desirable to be a massive food producer. That may be so, but I think it requires some justification. In many types of farming we have no comparative advantage. And worse than that, some arid areas that are farmed are so unsuitable that irrigation is depleting water supplies catastrophically.

Arent they worse in other countries like Europe where subsidies keep all those small and quaint farms people want to see in the French countryside in business?

And thats not really a bad thing. Farming where you must rely purely on market forces, is one of the most difficult areas to make a living in.

I know small towns, surrounded by farms where nobody in the town actually owns or works on the farms. They are all owned by the same corporation. All the work is contracted.

Conversely, when relying on market distorting subsidies, the living comes easier.
Indeed it comes in the form of a regular cheque.

In addition,

  1. Small, family-operated farms are considered an American institution, and subsidies help preserve them.

  2. Ethanol.

So’s mom and pop retail stores. That doesn’t keep us from providing Wal-Mart with tax supports and incentives.

Let’s face it, here. All the iconography in the world doesn’t mask the fact that it’s one more set aside for the powerful.

Almost all subsidies go to millionaires and multimillionares. Interestingly enough, this Heritage Foundation study found that most farms do not receive subsidies. Only one-fifth of commodity payments went to small farms in 2014. The rest went to mid-scale and large-scale operations. The subsidies aren’t miraculously trickling down to the small farms these companies contract with. Care to back up your claim that subsidies are preserving small, family-operated farms?

What percentage of American cropland is used for ethanol production? And how many farmers are generating renewable energy out of the total number that receive subsidies?

To be fair, his post was somewhat limited, saying only that “subsidies help preserve [small family-operated farms].” He didn’t say that that was the primary - or even a main - effect. I think it extremely likely that there are some number of small, independent farms that would not be able to continue without some form of subsidy. But the inescapable reality is that the vast majority of farm subsidies are welfare for industry and the wealthy.

Hell, we produce way too much corn as it is. So we have to figure out how to allow agribusiness to turn a profit from it - damning the environmental and health consequences - from beef feedlots, to feeding it to salmon, to wasting fresh water to produce ethanol… Someone want to explain to me how the guy driving the tractor profits from this system - as opposed to ADM, Cargill…?

In particular, the fact that the Iowa caucuses are one of the first opportunities for primary candidates to distinguish themselves is probably responsible for much agricultural policy. If, say, Utah held early primaries, would we have subsidies for ski resorts?

The time to help “small, family-operated farms” would have been back in the Reagan era, when the government turned its back to both them and the exploitation by S&Ls which later collapsed. Protecting small farming operations from insolvency would have meanted strengthening regulations in an era when the industry was being deregulated and bankruptcy were being weakened ,causing many farmers to lose farms that had been worked for generations and leave farming. As others have noted, subsidies actually benefit the large corporate interests who buy politicians who support and protect them, and while there is a valid motive in ensuring stable food costs many subsidies simply assure overproduction of perishable gods that benefit no one except the people who profit from them.

There is neither a fiscal or practical reason to susbsidized corn production as feedstock for ethanol manufacture. Ethanol is not a particularly good fuel in any practical sense, and will never be a mass replacement for petrofuels. As an addative to gasoline, ethanol reduces fuel economy and has a questionable impact on exhaust pollution while doing nothing to actually affect the costs of fuel or provide a path to sustainable transportation energy.


Farm subsidies mean consumers pay less of the cost of US produced food directly. Remove the subsidies and the consumer have to pay more of the production costs, and food produced in other countries becomes comparably cheaper.

I’m not saying it is not inefficient, or that there aren’t many elements that are special interest siphons lobbied into existence, but at least in part it is a global phenomenon justified by the national security issue of maintaining stable food production and the “trade fairness” issue of limiting foreign imports of, also subsidized, food.

Farm subsidies serve two purposes. They keep the price of food artificially low. Since taxation is progressive and food pricing is relatively proportional, this benefits low-income consumers. They also ensure that developed countries actually have agricultural industries. We know what globalization does, it tends to push production to wherever labor is able to do the job cheaply (There are productivity issues at play as well based on their ability to afford machinery, but it’s fair to say that multinational ag companies would pay for machines if they can get cheap labor.) Since agriculture is pretty much able to be done anywhere, that means that low labor countries have an extreme competitive advantage in agricultural production. Honestly, very little agricultural work should be taking place in the first world under a frictionless economic model. That though leads to countries being in a position where they rely upon food imports to exist and that means that they are able to be held hostage to those food imports. For instance, right now, China is reliant upon soy bean imports. It will have a serious collapse of its animal food industry without them. Last year, it had basically two suppliers, the US and Brazil. Right now, it’s in a pretty serious trade dispute with the US as you should know. This means that it is 100% completely reliant on Brazilian soy beans. It HAS to have them. This gives Brazil an incredible amount of leverage over China. Leverage that China probably wishes Brazil didn’t have. Will Brazil take advantage of that? Who knows? I doubt it. It’s probably just enjoying the higher value that its soy beans command and sees no reason to anger China, but it still puts China in a tough position.

Subsidies ensure that domestic production still exists and gives you leverage in trade wars. The fact that pretty much every developed country (and most developing countries) use agricultural subsidies regardless of their place on the political spectrum speaks to their usefulness.

So pick a small, family-operated family farm in each state or each region in a state and operate it as some sort of historical site. That would be cheaper than romantic nonsense about the value of small family farms.

And if that’s the goal, subsidize the low-income consumer at the purchasing end. That would be a far more efficient way to benefit the low-income consumer.

I’m too lazy to do research right now, so what I say is based on what I think I know and what I remember being told; it may not be completely accurate.

For three generations, my family has received subsidies through the FSA’s Conservation Reserve Program for not growing crops on a piece of land we own in southwest Kansas.

Before this area was settled, the land was covered with prairie grass, which held the incredibly dry, fine soil in place. Settlers removed the prairie grass in an attempt to grow crops. The result was the Dust Bowl – an economic, environmental, and human disaster.

The government’s response was to start paying land owners (usually poor farmers) to restore their land to prairie grass.

A close family member receives our annual payment, although none of us has been anywhere near the land for decades. Some distant relatives maintain the land as required and receive half the money, which is a couple of thousand dollars annually. Several families with nearby property receive millions of dollars annually.

A while back, there was a possibility that the Conservation Reserve Program would not be renewed and subsidies would end. Of course, this caused a furor.

The issue of subsidies is complicated. It’s not always just a matter of greed and malfeasance.

The farmers I know (small family farms) would rather just be left alone. They would prefer a small government that doesn’t have tentacles in every aspect of their lives than subsidies.

If the government wants to help the poor by subsidizing food producers, they should subsidize food that is actually healthy. There’s a reason sugars and grains are so much cheaper than fruits and vegetables.

So they do want the subsidies, they just don’t want any regulations?