Peoria Journal Star

November 3, 2005

Illinois rakes in farm aid
USDA has paid LaHood's territory $1.7 billion over the past decade

By Dori Meinert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Half of all government farm payments in the past decade went to 22 of 435 congressional districts, including three in Illinois, according to a new analysis by Environmental Working Group.

The Illinois districts are those represented by Reps. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, and Timothy Johnson, R-Urbana.

The Environmental Working Group wants Congress to cap payments to farmers and big farm operations, to increase the types of crops that are eligible for payments and to spend more money on conservation.

"Some parts of the country that have pretty important agriculture are not getting much money at all because they don't grow the right crops," said Ken Cook, the group's president.

LaHood's 18th Congressional District received $1.7 billion in farm payments over the past 10 years.

"I don't make any apologies for representing a large agricultural district. We provide a lot of the food and fiber for the world. Our farmers work hard," LaHood said.

"The price of corn and beans has not increased in five decades. The price of fertilizer has increased dramatically. The price of a combine has increased dramatically. The price of putting the seed in the ground dramatically. If we don't get the price up for corn and beans, then we can't expect the men and women who work hard in agriculture to continue to do it."

Shimkus represents a district containing all or parts of 30 counties, including many on fertile soil in central Illinois, an aide noted.

"So it's not surprising that these large geographic districts are on the top of a list of ag subsidies," spokesman Steven Tomaszewski said.

Shimkus' district collected $2 billion, while Johnson's received $2.2 billion over the 10-year period.

"In the last farm bill, changes were made to restrict the amount of subsidies a single individual may receive. Also, the ag subsidies were set to reflect actual prices farmers receive, which has saved money over previous programs. So again, farmers had to qualify under the existing standards to get those payments," Tomaszewski said.

The group's analysis found that farm payments are concentrated in the Midwest. Farmers in 22 congressional districts collected about $69 billion, more than half the total government farm payments, in the past decade, the group found.

Last year, Illinois farmers received $1.2 billion, or 36 percent more than the $854 million in federal payments that flowed to the state in 2003, according to the group's database, which compiles and analyzes data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Illinois ranked second in the nation behind Iowa for the amount of farm payments received. In 2003, it ranked fourth.

Illinois Corn Growers Association spokesman Mark Lambert attributed the 2004 increase to low corn prices and a record crop size that year.

Within the state, McLean County farmers received the highest total, $33.8 million, in 2004. They were followed by: Iroquois County, $33.1 million; Livingston County, $30.4 million; Champaign County, $28.9 million; LaSalle County, $26.7 million; and Bureau County, $25.3 million.

The top 2004 recipients in Illinois were: Moody Farms Partnership in Chrisman, $732,554; Sauk Valley Farms in Dixon, $651,968; Abk Co. in Easton, $607,837; Schlicht Farms Enterprises in Pleasant Plains, $538,909; and Lee Farms General Partner in Onarga, $529,503.

The subsidies are based on acreage and production of certain major crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat.

The Environmental Working Group argues that the large commercial farm operations receive a disproportionate share of the government money. In Illinois, about 58 percent of the federal dollars in 2004 went to just 10 percent of the recipients, according to the group's database.

Supporters of payment limits hope the database will bolster their arguments for reforming the system as Congress gears up to write a new farm bill next year. First released in 2001, the searchable database was used in debate over the 2002 farm bill. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, had said he will push to lower the payment cap from $360,000 to $250,000. But the limits are opposed by key Senate committee leaders.

The Environmental Working Group database can be found at www.ewg.org.