December 13, 2018 4:03PM

CBO Findings on Farm Subsidies

As the $867 billion farm bill goes to the president for his signature, the Congressional Budget Office reminds us why farm subsidies don’t make much sense.

CBO just released a new “options” report that includes more than 300 pages of ideas for reducing budget deficits. The report suggests ways that Congress could cut farm subsidies, and it describes how the world has changed since these programs were put in place in the 1930s:

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the 25 percent of the population that lived on farms had less than half the average household income of urban households; federal commodity programs came about to alleviate that income disparity.

One argument for eliminating Title I commodity support programs is that the structure of U.S. farms has changed dramatically since then: The significant income disparity between farm and urban populations no longer exists. In 2014, about 97 percent of all farm households (which now constitute about 2 percent of the U.S. population) were wealthier than the median U.S. household. Farm income, excluding federal program payments, was 52 percent higher than median U.S. household income.

Moreover, payments made through programs that support commodity prices and incomes are concentrated among a relatively small portion of farms. Three-quarters of all farms received no farm-related government payments in 2014; most program payments, in total, went to mid- to large-scale farms (those with annual sales above $350,000).

Title 1 refers to ARC, PLC, and other programs that shovel billions of taxpayer dollars to the growers of corn, soybeans, wheat, and other crops.

Let me reiterate:

  • About 97 percent of all farm households are wealthier than the median U.S. household.
  • Farm income was 52 percent higher than median U.S. household income.
  • Subsidies are slanted toward the largest farms.

Further arguments against farm subsidies are here, here, and here.