Is Record USDA Farm Aid Another Permanent 'Temporary Solution'?

Most of the money will go to the wealthiest agriculture businesses.


This week, the Trump administration announced an influx of billions of dollars in aid for U.S. farmers struggling due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In announcing the aid, President Donald Trump again positioned himself as "a great friend" of America's farmers, a key Trump voting bloc that was awash in "Trump money" even before the pandemic.

Many American farmers are hurting today. Since the pandemic began, farmers "have been forced to destroy their crops, dump milk[,] and throw out perishable items that can't be stored."

The $19 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, first outlined last month, is "the first big push to ensure the pandemic does not trigger consumer food shortages." It's sending $16 billion in cash to farmers and ranchers in various sectors who are struggling due in part to rising costs and falling profits.

Earlier this month, as part of the same U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) coronavirus response, Trump announced the federal government would buy $3 billion in surplus food from U.S. farmers, for use at food banks. That aid is part of the USDA's Farmers to Families Food Box Program, a COVID-era repackaging of the administration's oft-ridiculed Harvest Box scheme.

The $19-billion coronavirus package is only about half the total COVID-19 aid earmarked for the agricultural sector.

As these figures suggest, the federal government is using a variety of avenues to pump record amounts of taxpayer money into the farm economy. But many Americans are increasingly skeptical of the payments. And some experts, NBC News reports, "are raising concerns about the very premise of the COVID-19 farmer aid."

This week, the Environmental Working Group criticized the farm bailout, noting "most of the money won't go to small family farmers but to the largest and wealthiest farms, which need the money the least." Critics have also raised issues over the potential for farmers to inflate reported losses, whether and how to pay farmers for crops they haven't even planted, and which agricultural products should be eligible for government payments.

The food-aid program is also drawing scrutiny. As Politico reported last week, the USDA has awarded millions of dollars to companies with little or no experience distributing bulk food to anyone, nevermind to food banks.

"An event planning company in San Antonio, Texas, known for throwing lavish weddings and high-end conferences, was awarded more than $39 million," the paper reported. The food boxes were set to begin rolling out this week.

Notably, a good portion of the funding for the Trump administration's farm payments comes—as Vox reported last month—through "the Commodity Credit Corporation, a New Deal-era subagency of the US Department of Agriculture tasked with stabilizing the agricultural sector through purchases, sales, and direct payments."

Yes, that's the same New Deal that President Franklin Roosevelt launched around 90 years ago to help lift the nation out of the Great Depression.

"During the height of the Great Depression in the 1930s," I write in my book Biting the Hands that Feed Us, USDA Secretary Wallace "pitched farm subsidies as 'a temporary solution to deal with an emergency.' That emergency—long since ended—was the Great Depression."

Those farm subsidies—which include direct payments to farmers, just like the USDA's current coronavirus programs—have not only persisted uninterrupted to the present day, they've reshaped American agriculture in the process, forcing many American farmers to be responsive to and reliant on federal agricultural policies.

That's plain wrong, as I've long argued. Others agree that annual USDA subsidies aren't the answer to what ails us.

Nicholas Paulson, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois, told NBC News that farmers need help now, but suggests we need a better game plan going forward. "How long do we need to continue with, and how long can we continue with these multibillion support packages each year before we do something different?" Paulson wonders.

"I don't want to rely on government money on a yearly basis, no way," says Kansas rancher Kyle Hemmert, in that same NBC News piece. "I'd rather see a better system."

If you want to be a friend to America's farmers and ranchers, President Trump, please listen to Hemmert, Paulson, and others who want a better system. We can't and we shouldn't continue to throw money at farmers. Maybe, as I suggested in a tweet last week, we should eliminate farm subsidies altogether. Right now. 

Given the state of the economy, we could position the move—using Wallace's own language—as "a temporary solution to deal with an emergency."

NEXT: We Watched the Libertarian Party Vice Presidential Debate So You Didn't Have To

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  1. Are you saying there is pork in this farm bill?

    1. No, he’s saying there is nothing but pork in it.

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  2. OT:
    Lefty rag ‘shocked’ by job loss after lefty gov shuts down the economy!

    “California unemployment hits 15.5% in April — largest monthly job loss ever recorded”
    “The first deep dive into how the pandemic shutdown has tarnished the Golden State’s economy showed that employers shed 2.3 million payroll jobs in April, the largest one-month job loss ever recorded here…”

    Note it is the result of the flu, NOT the actions of that greaseball tin-pot dictator.

    1. Clearly, gaslighting is a green energy thing – – – – – –

  3. As with farm aid, social security, medicare, etc there is a dependency issue given the many decades this has been going on.

    In other words no politician is going to recommend ending welfare programs that are popular. It has to crash on its own.

  4. I suspect if you look closely at the commodity farming industry, you’re going to find that the total profits made by the entire industry over the last 50 years or so is less than the total amount of commodity farm industry subsidy payments made over the same time period. It’s like the old joke where a farmer wins the lottery and when he’s asked what he’s going to do now that he’s rich, shrugs and replies, “I guess I’ll just keep farming until the money’s all gone.” The day the government stops paying people to produce shit we don’t want and don’t need is the day the market decides how much shit we want and need and somehow, magically, the proper amount of shit gets produced.

  5. I don’t understand why we would pay them to dump milk and destroy the crops. Couldn’t the government just buy them and preserve them? Milk can be dried and stored probably for decades as can feed corn and most items that cannot be dried can be canned and meat can be irradiated and stored as well. If they are going to give them the money at least get something back of value. Eventually there will be a large drought or some other disaster and we will ready stores. They used to do this back in the cold war, some caverns in the desert I seem to remember.

    1. They used to do this back in the cold war, some caverns in the desert I seem to remember.

      I think that was/is radioactive waste – – – – – – – – – –

      1. “meat can be irradiated” … radioactive waste indeed

    2. There is no system set up to collect, dry, and store the large amounts of farm products that currently have no market. Food distribution systems in this country, just like other large distribution systems, are efficiently tuned to serve specific customers. It takes a long time to set up and redirect food supplies for customers like schools and restaurants, who almost instantaneously had no demand. Hence, it’s just more efficient to dump the food until the virus scare is over. Also, we don’t want farmers who supply these systems to go under, since their products will be needed again in a few months. Hence, it makes sense to subsidize them for now, to help keep them afloat. While both of these concepts go against most libertarian points of view, they are the best means of ensuring that the parts of our economy dependent on large food supplies are able to reopen quickly.

  6. Any chance at all that the big farms produce most of the food?

  7. The pop-up vid has the EU attempting to ‘slash’ pesticide use by 50% and increase ‘organic’ farming, ’cause (romantic bullshit). The EU seems to think poor people shouldn’t have cheap food.

  8. “America’s farmers, a key Trump voting bloc that was awash in “Trump money”

    Lol, only Trump could get the NPR of all places to print an article condemning farm subsidies.

  9. “President Donald Trump again positioned himself as “a great friend” of America’s farmers”

    Wow! he was “positioning” himself as “a great friend”. That phony…
    But let’s look at the context;

    “I want to begin by expressing our profound gratitude to everyone here today, and the farmers and producers across the country, who have kept our nation fed and nourished as we have battled the invisible enemy. It is an invisible enemy. It’s tough, but we’re going to win, and we’re going to win very big.

    But we can never forget all of the people that have been left behind, that have died for some reason that should have never happened. It should’ve never happened. You know that. I know that. And the people that caused the problem, they know that too. It’s too bad.

    You remind us once again that the American farmer is the backbone of our country. And they’re really a great friend of mine, and I appreciate all the support. And I know they appreciate our support.”

    What the fuck, Baylen.

    1. The thing is, I doubt me and Donald have much in common (certainly not a lot of money in common). By rights I should dislike him, but whenever I’m inclined to dislike him, along comes some frothing-at-the-mouth TDS person to remind me of that which (by divine providence) Trump is protecting us from, like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike (which doesn’t mean what you think, Donald, so chill).

      1. It is possible to simultaneously believe that Donald Trump is an enormous imbecile without a shred of either administrative competence or shame AND that all alternatives to him are equally unacceptable. American politics must move beyond asking people to choose between whether they’d rather get a bullet or an ice pick between the eyes.

        1. I’d say it’s like choosing between getting raped in one orifice only (Republicans) versus getting tentacle-raped in multiple orifices simultaneously (Democrats).

          1. And if you say that Libertarians are the no-rape party, recall that they nominated “nazi cakes” Johnson and “Hillary is awesome” Weld.

  10. You know who else had a permanent solution?

    1. The guy who invented indelible markers?

  11. At least USDA farm aid doesn’t come with Neil Young and John Mellencamp.

  12. Note that that’s the same New Deal that President Franklin Roosevelt launched around 90 years ago to help lift the nation out of the Great Depression. electrician santa monica

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