Springfield State Journal Register

November 30, 2004

Farm aid up in Illinois last year

Dori Meinert
Copley News Service

DATELINE: WASHINGTON -- The fastest-growing crop in Illinois just might be cash.

Federal subsidies to Illinois farmers jumped 40 percent last year, according to an analysis released Monday by a group critical of the way farm subsidies are allocated.

Illinois farmers, with their 2003 bumper harvest of $854 million in subsidies, ranked fourth in the nation behind farmers in Texas, Iowa and Arkansas, the Environmental Working Group found.

Mark Lambert, a spokesman for the Illinois Corn Growers Association, said the subsidy surge stemmed from the fact that large crop yields kept prices down.

"Under the current farm program, you would anticipate the numbers would go up and down," Lambert said. "That's kind of how the program is designed."

In 2002, Illinois' allotment fell dramatically from $1.9 billion in 2001 to $615 million.

Within the state, McLean County farmers last year reaped the largest subsidy total, with $22.5 million. They were followed closely by farmers in Iroquois, $22.2 million, Livingston, $21.4 million, Champaign, $20.8 million, LaSalle, $19 million, Henry, $16.3 million, Bureau, $15.8 million, and Sangamon, $15.4 million.

The top 2003 recipients were: Pat Scates & Sons of Shawneetown, $473,598; Schlicht Farm Enterprises of Pleasant Plains, $427,318; Rubenacker Farms of Dahlgren, $382,837; Thomas Bros of McLeansboro, $343,703; and Sauk Valley Farms of Dixon, $293,977.

Nationally, the federal farm subsidies increased 26 percent to $16.4 billion last year from $13 billion in 2002, the group found.

"It's not as if the subsidies are going to save the family farm," said Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook. "Two-thirds of the nation's farmers get no subsidy payments whatsoever."

Most farmers aren't eligible because the crops they grow don't qualify, he said. The subsidies are based on acreage and production of only certain major crops, such as corn, soybeans and wheat, a formula that rewards the large farm operators, he said.

The figures are the latest update from the Washington-based Environmental Working Group, which advocates cutting farm subsidies to free up more money for conservation programs.

The subsidy data is available on the Environmental Working Group's Web site, www.ewg.org. The searchable database uses information collected from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The database, first unveiled in 2001, figured prominently in the 2002 congressional debate over farm subsidies.

The boost in federal assistance to farms in 2003 came mostly from increases in disaster payments and commodity subsidies, but also includes a modest increase for conservation. However, Cook complained that conservation funding is always the first to be cut by Congress.

Cook argues that large commercial farms benefit disproportionately from the subsidies and that they should instead be reserved for truly needy farmers. He also argues that the subsidies should be available to farmers who grow crops that don't currently qualify for subsidies.

In Illinois, about 55 percent of the federal farm dollars went to 10 percent of the recipients. That's an average of $33,713 for each of the 14,054 recipients. Nationally, the figure was 68 percent in 2003.

Illinois has 73,027 farms, including 47,857 that receive some federal farm subsidy, according to the database, which took its figures from the 2002 Census of Agriculture.

In Illinois, corn subsidies increased from $323 million in 2002 to $436 million last year. Soybean subsidies jumped from $110 million to $199 million. Disaster payments grew from $10 million to $50.8 million. Meanwhile, conservation funding decreased from $124 million to $116 million, according to the group's database.

Cook said disaster assistance tends to go to the same farmers year after year. One-third of the disaster payments made over nine years that the group has collected data went to farmers in six states - Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Kansas, Missouri, and South Dakota, he said.