The basic premise behind agricultural subsidies is to supplement on-the-farm income, thereby allowing small, family farms to compete with large agribusiness operations and/or foreign producers who experience economies of scale or other production advantages. On the surface it appears to be a noble cause.
However, there are two problems with farm subsidies: 1) private businesses are being supported by public funds and 2) the intended beneficiaries are not the ones receiving the subsidies.
U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Rand Paul is taking some heat over his recent comments concerning farm subsidies. Appearing on a Kentucky Educational Television debate, Paul said, “I don’t think federal subsidies of agriculture are a good idea … They often go to large corporate farming and I’m not in favor of giving welfare to business.”
That’s a stark contrast from Hopkinsville Rep. Ed Whitfield’s position. Whitfield brought home $89 million in farm subsidies last year.
If my time in agriculture, both professionally and educationally, has taught me anything it’s that Paul is unequivocally correct.
In 2009, the top 1 percent of Kentucky farms collected 22 percent of the subsidy payments, with an average payment of approximately $66,000 per recipient. For example, Seven Springs Farms in Cadiz received almost $370,000 in subsidies despite having an operation of over 19,000 acres. To put this into perspective, the remaining 80 percent of farm operations received only 17 percent of the payments.
It’s hard to argue against the intentions of agricultural subsidies, especially when the image of the idyllic farm struggling to make ends meet comes to mind. Unfortunately, that idyllic farm image is long gone, yet the subsidies that accompany it still remain.