Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Congress Doesn't Want You to Know Which Farm Operations You're Subsidizing

Congress Doesn't Want You to Know Which Farm Operations You're Subsidizing

Environmental Working Group

A new analysis of more than a million government records never before made public and obtained by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has found that in 2011 more than 10,000 individual farming operations have received federal crop insurance premium subsidies ranging from $100,000 to more than $1 million apiece. Some 26 farming operations received subsidies of $1 million or more last year.

It is the most detailed disclosure of federal crop insurance benefits to date, tracking subsidies across 686,273 insurance policies issued to 486,867 policyholders last year, when the program’s costs exceeded a record $11 billion. Yet one crucial detail is missing, deliberately and by an act of Congress: the names of the beneficiaries.

“The eye-opening analysis shows crop insurance is not only very expensive, but also very, very generous to large and highly profitable farm businesses,” said Craig Cox, EWG senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources. “Now the public needs to know who they are.”

Using FOIA requests, EWG collected information from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency about crop insurance policies and premium subsidies for individual policyholders in each U.S. state and county. The records analyzed by EWG establish that the holders of subsidized crop insurance policies, unlike other Americans engaged in professional and commercial enterprises, enjoy extraordinarily costly federal perks in the form of premium subsidies.

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 soared from $1.5 billion in 2002 to $7.4 billion in 2011. The subsidies go to large operators with no conservation strings attached to protect water and soil, no means testing, and no payment limit on how much a farm business can collect.

Among the facts disclosed by the documents:

  • A single farm business in Florida received $1.9 million in subsidies for premiums to insure crops of tomatoes and peppers in five counties.
  • A Minnesota farm business insuring corn and soybeans in eight counties received $1.7 million in federal crop insurance subsidies.
  • In Texas, the 10 percent of farm businesses that received the greatest amount of insurance subsidies harvested 63 percent of all the crop insurance subsidies that went into the state last year.
  • The 10 percent of North Dakota farm businesses that received the greatest amount of insurance subsidies took in 45 percent of the subsidies going to all farms in the state.

The analysis also shows that while crop insurance benefits, like farm subsidies, are concentrated in the hands of a small number of large farming operations, premium subsidies are modest for the overwhelming majority of crop insurance policyholders. Those farm operations would be unaffected by premium subsidy limits now being debated in Congress, such as the $40,000 limit analyzed by the Government Accountability Office earlier this year. The bottom 80 percent of policyholders (389,494 operations), for instance, received subsidies worth just over $5,000 in 2011.

The insurance subsidies are so controversial, and so lucrative to the companies that administer it, that the industry’s powerful lobbyists prevailed on Congress to bar the U.S. Department of Agriculture from disclosing identities of individual policyholders who reap the benefits.

“Taxpayers don’t know who is getting our money,” said EWG president Ken Cook. “Why hasn’t Congress done its job and released the names for everyone to see, instead of serving the interests of the crop insurance lobby?”

EWG has long advocated for increased transparency and accountability in the burgeoning federal crop insurance program.

“Senate agriculture committee leaders ought to lift the veil of secrecy before the 2012 farm bill hits the floor next month,” said Cook. “We must stop giving big payouts that guarantee income to big agribusiness and pass a fair and equitable farm bill that makes meaningful reforms to crop insurance, feeds the hungry, and improves the environment and public health,” said Cook.

Visit EcoWatch's FOOD page for more related news on this topic.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The frozen meat section at a supermarket in Hong Kong, China, in February. Chukrut Budrul / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

Imported frozen food in three Chinese cities has tested positive for the new coronavirus, but public health experts say you still shouldn't worry too much about catching the virus from food or packaging.

Read More Show Less
This image of the Santa Monica Mountains in California shows how a north-facing slope (left) can be covered in white-blooming hoaryleaf ceanothus (Ceanothus crassifolius), while the south-facing slope (right) is much less sparsely covered in a completely different plant. Noah Elhardt / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.5

By Mark Mancini

If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.

Read More Show Less
Flames from the Lake Fire burn on a hillside near a fire truck and other vehicles on Aug. 12, 2020 in Lake Hughes, California. Mario Tama / Getty Images

An "explosive" wildfire ignited in Los Angeles county Wednesday, growing to 10,000 acres in a little less than three hours.

Read More Show Less
Although heat waves rarely get the attention that hurricanes do, they kill far more people per year in the U.S. and abroad. greenaperture / Getty Images

By Jeff Berardelli

Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020

If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.

Read More Show Less

A film by Felix Nuhr.

Thailand has a total population of 5,000 elephants. But of that number, 3,000 live in captivity, carrying tourists on their backs and offering photo opportunities made for social media.

Read More Show Less
Scientists have found a way to use bricks as batteries, meaning that buildings may one day be used to store and generate power. Public Domain Pictures

One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources. Now, a new study and advances in nanotechnology have found a method that may relieve the burden on supercapacitor storage. This method turns bricks into batteries, meaning that buildings themselves may one day be used to store and generate power, Science Times reported.

Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.

The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.

The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.

If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.

The first power bricks are only one percent of a lithium-ion battery, but storage capacity can be increased tenfold by adding materials like metal oxides, Julio D'Arcy, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who contributed to the paper and was part of the research team, told The Guardian. But only when the storage capacity is scaled up would bricks become commercially viable.

"A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries," D'Arcy told The Guardian. "What we have done is provide a new 'food-for-thought' option, but we're not there yet.

"If [that can happen], this technology is way cheaper than lithium ion batteries," D'Arcy added. "It would be a different world and you would not hear the words 'lithium ion battery' again."

Trending

Aerial view of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Gamboa, Panama, where a new soil study was held, on Sept. 11, 2019. LUIS ACOSTA / AFP via Getty Images

One of the concerns about a warming planet is the feedback loop that will emerge. That is, as the planet warms, it will melt permafrost, which will release trapped carbon and lead to more warming and more melting. Now, a new study has shown that the feedback loop won't only happen in the nether regions of the north and south, but in the tropics as well, according to a new paper in Nature.

Read More Show Less