We harp a great deal on the importance of rural development programs within the farm bill, and one of our constant refrains is “enact strong, effective payment limitations and put the savings into rural development programs that create genuine opportunity for all of rural America.” You might call it a talking point.
Obviously, we think that spending money on rural economic development programs is a better investment in the future than sending million-dollar checks to mega-farms. But we also wanted to get down to the nitty-gritty and find out how much money we’re talking about here. Is the funding gap between rural development and checks for enormous farms as great as much of our rhetoric suggests? With all of the new data on the web, Jon Bailey, Rural Research and Analysis Program Director here in the home office decided that it was time to find out.
With data from the Environmental Working Group’s Farm Subsidy Database and newly available federal funds data from our pals at the Southern Rural Development Initiative, Mr. Bailey did some number crunching. He examined 260 rural counties with the greatest depopulation or lowest population growth in thirteen states and added up what the funds they received from rural development programs in the farm bill. Then he looked at the top 20 farm program recipients in each state. Pretty simple, and what he found is astonishing.
The numbers speak for themselves. In our home state, Nebraska, the top 20 farm payment recipients received more than $25 million while our top 20 lowest population growth counties received a little more than $4 million in rural development funding. Those 20 counties are home to 64,791 people. So 20 farm payment recipients received six times the amount of money invested in rural economic development programs for over 64,000 people.
In Kansas, it turned out to be $25 million for fat cats and $5.4 million for 182,000 people. Out of thirteen states, only two- Minnesota and Idaho- received more dollars in rural development money than the total dollars that went to the top 20 mega-farms. And even in those states, the difference is not large- $21 million to $27 million in MN, and $12 million to $18 million in ID.
In total, 260 of the most depressed rural counties in thirteen states, home to nearly 3 million people, received $156 million in rural development funding. The 260 largest farm program payments in those states received $264 million dollars. That’s not just shocking, it is downright immoral.
Now is the time to right this wrong. Congress should close the loopholes in the supposed payment limits we have now, and say once and for all the farm bill is about supporting small and mid-sized family farms and rural communities. Now is the time to invest in the future of rural America, and we have the resources to do so. The most rural communities in this country are headed for the dustbins of history. We'll see if our elected representatives have the courage to do something about it.
Click the image below for a larger chart showing state by state results from the study.