Largest farms received most trade bailout, COVID-19 payments

This article first appeared on the Environmental Working Group’s website. -promoted by Laura Belin

The largest and wealthiest U.S. farm businesses received the biggest share of almost $33 billion in payments from two subsidy programs – one created by the Trump administration to respond to the president’s trade war and the other by Congress in response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to updates to EWG’s Farm Subsidy Database.

The Market Facilitation Program, or MFP, was intended to offset the perceived damage done by the administration’s trade war, which reduced many farmers’ access to lucrative Chinese markets. Payments for the 2018 and 2019 crop years were just over $23 billion – more than $8.5 billion for 2018 and $14.5 billion for 2019.

EWG’s analysis of Department of Agriculture records, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, shows:

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Iowa agriculture, climate change, and "SWAPA"

Paul W. Johnson is a preacher’s kid, former Iowa state legislator, former chief of the USDA Soil Conservation Service/Natural Resources Conservation Service, former director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and a retired farmer. -promoted by Laura Belin

In the early 1980s there was a serious farm crisis in Iowa. Land and commodity prices were falling, so banks were calling in farm loans and foreclosing on farmers who couldn’t pay up. Maurice Dingman was bishop of the Des Moines area during those years, and he was speaking up strongly for farmers who were suffering during this time. I was impressed by his defense of family farmers.

In 1987 David Osterberg and I were serving in the Iowa legislature–he representing Mount Vernon, I representing Decorah–and working on groundwater protection. Industrial agriculture sent their lobbyists to weaken our legislation, and newspapers were carrying stories about their fierce opposition to our work.

During this time, Bishop Dingman phoned us and suggested we have lunch together. 

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2,4-D crops rubberstamped

(Bad news for Iowa farmers who grow vegetables and fruits (including vineyards), or who raise livestock on chemical-free pastures. Bleeding Heartland user black desert nomad covered some of the potential risks here. Even for conventional corn and beans farmers, the approach rubber-stamped by the EPA and USDA is likely to exacerbate the "superweed" problem over time. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

It's official. EPA and USDA have both evaluated Dow Chemical's new  line of 2,4-D-resistant seeds, Enlist — and have approved both the seeds  and the accompanying pesticide formulation for market.

This is a turning point, not just for grain production but for food  production in the U.S. and internationally. The introduction of Enlist  corn and soybeans, and the widespread adoption of this new seed line,  will have pervasive impacts on farmer livelihoods, public health and  control of our food system.

 

This is a decision that our regulators should not have taken lightly.  And yet, it seems they did. Both USDA and EPA set up an intentionally  narrow scope for evaluating the potential harms posed by 2,4-D resistant  crops — one that ignored the biggest problems and held up irrelevant  factors as evidence of safety.

As small farmers brace for the impact of pesticide drift that will  hit with the introduction of Enlist crops, it is time for us to look  forward. It's time to demand a regulatory system that takes a rigorous  approach to pesticides and genetically engineered crops, one that values  small farmers as much as industrial agriculture — and public health as  much as corporate profit.

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My comment to the USDA on Dow's petition to unleash 2,4-D resistant crops

(Appreciate this look at an issue that was not on my radar. Bleeding Heartland user black desert nomad has posted more details and references in the comments. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

The path to progress has little to do with speed but a heckuva lot to do with direction – an Iowa farmer said once as he described the act of stewarding his farm land to provide for his family and the next generation.  I suggest the the USDA and all interested parties heed this advice in the consideration of the status of 2,4-D Resistant corn and soybeans, and I hope you will decline the petition.  While this is only a single petition it is a strong signal to agriculture to continue on the pesticide-treadmill, whereby efficacy wanes and a new, often more potent, product is rolled out.  And while the USDA and others may chose to take that path – it should be understood they are deciding for everyone and the destructive nature of 2,4-D will impact all farmers. 
The use of herbicide resistant crops inevitably increases the use of the associated chemicals. For example, the volume of glyphosate deployed in  Iowa has grown exponentially since 1996 and today is nearly unfathomable.  The USGS has shown glyphosate is now persistent in Iowa rains and air. These technologies are dealt on a field by field basis but every acre of Iowa gets the treatment through air, water, and transport of crops.  Now on the docket is a chemical that is arguably worse than glyphosate for human and ecosystem health. When 2, 4-D was championed the first time, Iowa's leading apple and grape industries vanished in less than 10 years. Today, Iowa's wine industry is reborn but its fate likely rests on the decision before the USDA.
Veteran farmers that routinely use 2,4-D today for corn production describe that they are very concerned about this pending biotech trait. If/when the herbicide resistant crops are ok'ed, the deployment of 2,4-D will be increased and perhaps more importantly it will be used later in the growing season when volitilization-potential is greatest due to heat and the respiration of mature crops. Dow Agroscience's insistence of lesser volatility in future formulations of 2,4-D is a tough pill to swallow when Iowans see the chemical-burnt windbreaks along field edges. Agrichemical drift is a common issue for rural citizens and the farmers of Iowa growing crops other than the resistant varieties of corn and soybeans.
I am an aspiring farmer and have been actively searching for farmland upon which to begin. Twice recently I have had interest to purchase – but the small (~ 50 acre) parcels have been too narrow to avoid chemical drift – and I have declined in anticipation of the decision on this petition. If 2,4-D resistant crops are approved by you and widely adopted by farmers, Iowa might no longer be a viable place to pursue the production of small grains, vegetables, orchards and pastures as I plan to.  In order to preserve the rights and liberties of Iowa farmers to pursue diverse approaches to agriculture, I ask that you decline Dow Agroscience's petitions 09-233-01p, 09-349-01p, and 11-234-01p.

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Tom Vilsack to stay at USDA

Multiple news sources are reporting today that as expected, Tom Vilsack will stay in President Barack Obama’s cabinet as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

The USDA has a budget of about $150 billion and is the third-biggest cabinet agency in spending after Defense and Health and Human Services. Food stamps for needy families account for about half of the department’s spending, with the remainder taken up by other nutrition programs and subsidies for farmers such as insurance for crops including corn, wheat and cotton.

Working on a new long-term farm bill will be a major task for Congress this year. The “fiscal cliff” deal extended some but not all important farm programs temporarily.

Vilsack may tangle with Representative Steve King, who just became chairman of the House Agriculture subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, and Nutrition.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. In other Obama cabinet news, Janet Napolitano will keep her job as head of the Department of Homeland Security.

UPDATE: Interesting trivia courtesy of Alan Bjerga: “Should he serve until 2017, the former Iowa governor would be the first person to head the Department of Agriculture for two terms since Orville Freeman led the agency under presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s.”

SECOND UPDATE: Added a statement from Vilsack after the jump.

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