- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 1, 2002

Hundreds of millions of dollars in federal farm subsidies go to city and state governments, well-endowed state universities and prison systems, while thousands of poor farmers are denied funds to stay in business.

During the past six years, the U.S. Agriculture Department doled out crop subsidies to 413 city and town governments, 44 state universities and 14 state prison systems, but turned away tens of thousands of small farmers and ranchers who applied, according to an analysis by The Washington Times.

The state of Washington's Department of Natural Resources raked in $6.6 million from 1996 to 2001 the largest amount for a state agency. Alabama's state prison system got $567,147.

The county government in Muskegon, Mich., pulled in $670,966. Five public school districts in Louisiana even got $1.6 million to subsidize their agriculture programs.

"This in the long haul is undermining our free-market system," Rep. Ed Royce, California Republican and chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Pork Busters Coalition, said of the federal farm-subsidy program.

"They sent out 22 million checks. It causes overproduction and drives up land rents," Mr. Royce said. "You have people looking at an opportunity for what they themselves can acquire. In the long term, our economy and farm sector will be better off if we phase out these subsidies."

Agriculture Department spokesman Dan Stewart said the Farm Service Agency, which doles out the money, is required to subsidize state and local governmental entities.

"They own farmland," he said. "There are city governments, state governments that own farmland. They receive farm payments just like any individual or corporation that owns land to produce crops. We're obligated to make them."

Asked why municipal and state governments and prisons should get subsidies intended for struggling small farmers in the private sector, Mr. Stewart said, "Well, now you're getting into a policy question. Somebody should ask the congressmen, 'Why don't you exempt them?'"

Eligibility for farm subsidies is determined by the crop that is grown, with growers of corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans and rice getting more than 90 percent of the $20 billion spent yearly for the federal program.

In 2001, according to the Agriculture Department, large growers and agribusinesses earning more than $250,000 yearly, including a dozen Fortune 500 companies, received almost three-fourths of all farm subsidies.

Only 40 percent of U.S. farmers collect farm subsidies. More than two-thirds of them are located in 12 farm-belt states.

In the fall, President Bush said he wanted a new farm bill that emphasized conservation programs as a way to reduce subsidies and resulting crop overproduction that has driven thousands of small farmers out of business. But the president relented to farming special interests and members of Congress from powerful farm states and recently signed a new six-year $248.6 subsidy bill.

Ken Cook, president of the Washington-based Environmental Working Group (EWG), whose farm-subsidy database was used for The Times study, said creative state and local government planners have found many ways to tap into the federal program.

"The city of St. Louis bought land for flood control north of the city, on the flood plain. They wanted to not have it built," he said. "Meanwhile, it qualified for the corn-subsidy program It had a tenant farmer enrolled. It was a good business transaction for them. They got the money."

The city of St. Louis received $84,536 from 1996 to 2001, according to the EWG database.

"What this program is about is not helping working farmers. It ends up having taxpayers give money to people who own the right land," Mr. Cook said.

"They supported the marching band at the University of Illinois with farm-support money," he said. "We are all in favor of marching bands at Environmental Working Group. But there should be other ways to pay for it than with money for the farm-support program."

Among findings of The Times study:

•Many state and private universities and schools use their agriculture programs and even foundations not related to farming to get millions of dollars from the farm-support program.

The University of Arizona, Iowa State University at Ames and Texas Tech University all got $1.2 million over the six-year period. The Texas Tech Medical Foundation in Lubbock found a way to squeeze $5,454 from the program. The Texas School for the Blind in Austin received $14,309.

Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington got $727,135. Indiana Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist boarding school in Cicero, got $109,334. The Iowa Academy of Science in Mason City received $84,483.

•City governments in farm states have eagerly climbed on the wagon with local producers. The city of Stuttgart, Ark., got $335,503.

Stuttgart is the home of 715 subsidy recipients who collectively raked in $178,025,550 in the past six years. Arkansas' largest recipient, Riceland Foods Inc. of Stuttgart, got $50.8 million in crop subsidies and $220.8 million in federal commodity certificate subsidies in 2000 and 2001.

•Fifty-eight city governments in Kansas collectively got $431,769; 31 cities in Illinois, $313,656; 31 Missouri cities, $508,860; 26 Iowa cities, $344,846; 17 Oklahoma cities and towns, $491,068.

•In the West, where billions of federal dollars previously paid for irrigation projects that turned desert into farmland, California's Reclamation District No. 108 in Grimes found a way to collect $322,116 in crop subsidies.

Nebraska's Public Power District in Kearney collected $149,850, while North Dakota's State Water Commission in Bismarck got $11,226.

Even airports and historical societies are at the trough: Walla Walla Regional Airport in Washington state got $67,222; Idaho County Airport in Grangeville, Idaho, $6,612; and Iowa City Airport, Iowa, $805.

The Nebraska State Historical Society got $31,919; the Kansas State Historical Society, $6,453; the State Historical Society of Iowa, $3,392; and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, $1,010.

State and local agencies in the District, Hawaii, New Jersey and Rhode Island got no farm-subsidy money. In Nevada, just the University of Nevada at Reno got $23,110. In New York, just the State University of New York at Morrisville collected $15,162.

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