Farm subsidies, then, began partly for political reasons
and continue to exist mostly for political reasons. Let us leave
aside the intentions behind the farm bill and observe its out-
comes. Farm subsidies flow mostly to a select few. From 1995
to 2012, the top 10 percent of subsidy recipients received 75 per-
cent of all USDA subsidies. During this period, the families of
twenty-three members of Congress received farm subsidies,
and one representative from Tennessee received over 3 million
dollars. Almost all of the subsidies go to corn, rice, cotton, wheat,
and soybean farmers, leaving little for those who produce fruits
and vegetables. While large farmers do receive more total dol-
lars from farm subsidies, relative to the value of their output
they receive about five times less than small farmers. As a result
small farmers owe more of their total farm income to subsidies,
even if they receive less total dollars compared to large farms.
About 45 percent of US cropland is rented, and much of the
farm subsidies money ends up in the hands of the landowner,
even if the government check is written expressly to the farmer.
If the government begins sending farmers more money for
every bushel of corn produced, landowners will realize farm-
ers are making more from the land they rent. The landowner is
then able to increase the rent, and this is exactly what happens.
Landowners are able to exert such pressure on farmers because
good cropland is fixed in quantity and cannot be easily expanded,
whereas farmers willing to rent land are relatively plentiful.
Wealth generally flows to those with the fixed resources, and
in this case, they are the landowners. To what extent does the
transference of farm subsidies actually take place? It depends on
the source you look at. Some sources indicate the landowners
receive most of the subsidies through higher rental rates, while
others suggest they take only around 25 percent.
Farm subsidies have usually been ignored in the past but
lately have become the focus of heated debate. Now that
environmental groups are focusing on pollution from agri-
culture, and citizens are more interested in food, farm subsi-
dies are increasingly criticized. The Environmental Working