You’ve probably heard of commodities and the subsidies the government pays the people (or businesses) who grow them. But what are commodities, anyway? Who gets subsidies, how do they work, and why?
The issue of subsidies is one of the most contentious in the whole Food & Farm Bill debate; we’ve collected some materials here to help you make sense of it.
What Are Commodities?
Commodity crops include wheat, feed grains (grain used as fodder, such as maize or corn, sorghum, barley, and oats), cotton, milk, rice, peanuts, sugar, tobacco, and oilseeds such as soybeans. Most fruits and vegetables are not classified as commodity crops, and are instead known as “specialty crops.”
Commodity crops (and the subsidies paid for them) are addressed in Title III of the 2008 Food and Farm Bill, which accounted for about 11% of the bill’s total spending.
How Subsidies Work (and Don’t)
- Farm Subsidy Primer
Environmental Working Group
A great, simple, readable overview. EWG is perhaps the leader in the field for in-depth research and compelling, accessible presentation of subsidies – and all their outrageous flaws. Also check out the 2011 Farm Subsidy Database.
- The Non-Wonk Guide to Understanding Federal Commodity Payments
Scott Marlow of the Rural Advancement Foundation International
- Billions In Farm Subsidies Underwrite Junk Food, Study Finds (9/22/11)
“…$17 billion of the total $260 billion the government spent subsidizing agriculture went to just four common food addititives: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soy oils.”
- High Crop Prices a Threat to Nature? (11/28/11)
Star Tribune (MN)
In the next few years, millions of acres of prairie and wetland habitat may be plowed under as farmers choose between leaving it to nature or converting it to cash crops. With corn prices at an all-time high, “many predict that nature will be the loser.”
The Subsidy Debate: What to Do About Them
- Grain Reserves and the Food Price Crisis: Selected Writings from 2008-2012 (07/16/12)
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), et al.
- The National Crop Reserve: an Old School Plan We Need Again (07/14/2012)
Siena Chrisman, Good
WhyHunger Programs Communications Manager Siena Chrisman says that subsidies are simply an effort to fix a broken system, and proposes a new old solution: reestablishing a crop reserve.
- Farm subsidies to be hot topic in debate for 2012 farm bill (4/16/12)
Doug Zellmer, The Northwestern
An in-depth look at the effect of subsidies on Wisconsin farmers.
- Corporate welfare should end with the farm bill (10/14/11)
Thomas Kostigen, MarketWatch
“The biggest boondoggle of entrenched corporate welfare is being debated and discussed behind closed doors right now in Washington and throughout meetings in Texas, Kansas and Iowa, among other places in the country. The boondoggle is called the farm bill, and it’s up for congressional vote next year.”
- Limit Direct Payments in 2012 Farm Bill (4/11/11)
Brian Depew, Center for Rural Affairs
- Don’t End Agricultural Subsidies, Fix Them (3/1/11)
Mark Bittman, New York Times
- New York Times Attacks Farm Programs for All the Wrong Reasons (1/21/11)
Daryll E. Ray and Harwood D. Schaffer, Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, University of Tennessee
“Without understanding why farm legislation was enacted in the first place and how it has morphed over time, it will be very difficult to design the 2012 Farm Bill in ways that will meet current budget constraints and still support a vibrant farm economy.”
- Missing Plank in the Democratic Foodie Platform (12/3/10)
Iowa Farm Activist, Daily Kos
“Progressive young Democrats working on food and farm issues have largely missed a key plank for their platform: a Democratic commodity title of the federal farm bill.”
How the Debt Deal and Budget May Affect Subsidies
- Farm lobby’s power withers as subsidies face cuts (9/20/11)
David Rogers, Politico
“Washington’s debt crisis brings American agriculture to a crossroads this fall and no other sector of the economy may have more to gain or lose from the debate in Congress over deficit reduction.”