Making Sense of Agricultural Subsidies

Sun, 20 Apr 2008 22:53:08 +0000

Don't even bother. From today's local paper:

Piermont -- Fifteen years after starting their dairy farm above the Connecticut River, Lisa Knapton and Hal Covert milk 104 cows every day with the help of one hired hand. Life at Moonstruck Farm has not been easy, but along the way, Knapton and Covert have had some help: The couple received about $360,000 in federal farm subsidies from 1995 through 2006.

Much of it helped offset low milk prices and fund construction of the Piermont farm's environmentally friendly manure pit, boosts for Knapton and Covert as they faced the challenges of Northern New England's dwindling dairy industry. But a substantial portion was money the couple never asked for -- and that Knapton says they didn't deserve.

That's because, like many other dairy farms in the Upper Valley, Moonstruck Farm is entitled to collect federal subsidies intended to help growers cope with low prices for corn, despite the fact that corn grown on the farm is never sold. Instead, the federally subsidized crop is shredded and fed to cows.

“I think that's a joke,” Knapton said in a recent interview, referring to the corn subsidies Moonstruck Farm has received, about $73,000 from 1995 through 2006. “We don't deserve that. We’re going to plant corn anyway. We don't do anything for (the money). We just get it.”

Moonstruck Farm is not alone. In what appears to be one of many costly quirks in the nation's sprawling system of agricultural subsidies, Upper Valley dairy farms have collected millions in corn payments since 1995. When the price of corn fell, subsidies to dairy farms here went up, even when -- as was often the case -- none of the farms' corn went to market.

It does seem odd that a farm that is designed to be a consumer of corn gets more money from the federal program when corn prices fall.