Harvesting Cash: A Year-long Investigation by The Washington Post

How to Spend an Extra $15 Billion

In the past five years alone, the U.S. government has handed out more than $95 billion in agricultural subsidies. Post reporters criss-crossed the country in 2006, identifying more than $15 billion in wasteful, unnecessary and redundant spending.

Behind the Series

Washington Post reporters Dan Morgan, Gilbert M. Gaul and Sarah Cohen spent more than a year examining federal agriculture subsidies, generating more than a dozen stories and several interactive maps in 2006.

$1.3 Billion to People
Who Don't Farm

The largest annual subsidy, called direct and countercyclical payments, is given to farmers regardless of what crops they grow — or whether they grow anything at all. The Post found that, since 2001, at least $1.3 billion was paid to landowners who had planted nothing since 2000. Among the beneficiaries were homeowners in new developments whose backyards used to be rice fields. (July 2, 2006)

Growers Reap Benefits
Even in Good Years

For the 2005 corn crop, the federal government spent about $4.8 billion to compensate farmers for low corn prices. That was $3.8 billion more than needed to give them the government-guaranteed price. The program has cost taxpayers $29 billion since 1998. "Most smart farmers are cashing in on it," says one expert. (July 3, 2006)

No Drought Required
For Federal Drought Aid

A 2002 program aimed at helping those facing a serious drought gave $635 million to ranchers and dairy farmers who had moderate or no drought. Some ranchers got money because they lived in counties declared disaster areas after debris fell to earth from the space shuttle Columbia. The program was created to help a Republican candidate for the Senate. It included $34 million for catfish farmers. (July 18, 2006)

Drought Aid Went
To Private Interests

Tens of millions of pounds of surplus powdered milk that was intended for livestock owners in drought-stricken states ended up on the secondary market, generating millions of dollars in profits for middlemen. (July 19, 2006)

Aid Is a Bumper Crop
For Farmers

The government spent billions to expand crop insurance coverage and eliminate the need for annual disaster payments. But taxpayers spent about $9 billion for disaster payments anyway — often to the same farmers. Big beneficiaries of the program were 16 private insurance companies. (Oct. 16, 2006)

Crop Insurance Led
To Waste and Abuse

Crop insurance sometimes alters the landscape of farming, as it did to the sweet potato in North Carolina. Some farmers have found ways around the limits on federal disaster payments. And most farmers pass up low-interest federal disaster loans in favor of the cash. (Oct. 15, 2006)

Dairy Industry Crushed an Arizona Innovator

When a maverick Arizona dairyman decided to sell milk for less than the competition, a coalition of giant milk companies and dairies decided to crush his initiative. For three years, the milk lobby spent millions on lobbying and campaign contributions and made deals with lawmakers. Last March, Congress used a rare procedure to stop the maverick without a hearing. (Dec. 10, 2006)

The Myth of
The Small Farmer

The multibillion-dollar farm subsidy system often is touted by Congress as a way to save small family farms. Instead, those policies are helping to accelerate their demise, because owners of large farms receive the most subsidies and often use the money to acquire more land. Still, some farmers say they could not survive without subsidies. (Dec. 21, 2006)

Powerful Interests Ally to Change Farm Subsidies

Federal rules limit the total amount that farms can receive from the three primary farm programs to $180,000 annually. But for the 2004 crop year about $817 million was sent to farms that had already reached their limits. A big political battle looms over the 2007 farm bill. (Dec. 22, 2006)

© 2006 The Washington Post Company