Mary Ellen Kustin, EWG Legislative Policy Analyst, and Soren Rundquist, GIS/Landscape Analyst
“Subsidy millionaires” are not your typical family farmers. They are individuals who each year collect more than $1 million each in crop insurance subsidies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They own big agriculture operations – really big ones. And even though big agribusinesses are raking in record profits, the government ponies up lots of dough to cover a large share – 100 percent in some cases – of their insurance premiums.
In 2011, the only year for which EWG was given more detailed data, there were 26 subsidy millionaires across the country. Congress doesn’t allow USDA to release their names, but the agency did identify what counties their crops were in. And they were all over the map, operating on 1.1 million acres of cropland in 174 counties. One grower is planting in as many as eight states! (See map below.)
For every one of their fields, these subsidy millionaires get huge giveaways from the government. So much so that in six counties a single farmer banked more in premium subsidies than all of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients in that county – combined – got to help buy food.
These insurance subsidies for wealthy farmers add up. In 2011, taxpayers covered$32.8 million in insurance premiums for the subsidy millionaires – more than it takes to support 16,400 SNAP recipients. That’s a big hunk of change going to the farmers who need it the least.
What are we so generously paying for subsidy millionaires to grow? Mostly a lot of corn and soy – both of which have been selling at record high prices in recent years.
And while there’s no way to know the subsidy millionaires’ exact profits, they’re almost certainly among the 10 percent of farms (about 200,000 in all) that have an average household income of at least $205,000 – more than quadruple the median annual household income for the country as a whole. With net farm incomes atrecord high levels, there is a good chance these growers are doing even better than that.
Regardless of how high their profits are, we taxpayers subsidize, on average, more than 60 percent of farmers’ crop insurance premiums (not to mention the additional amounts we pay to subsidize the insurance companies’ payouts and operating expenses).
What it all means is that for some of the largest agribusinesses, the so-called safety net has turned into more of a gold-plated escalator to higher and higher profits. And taxpayers are increasingly on the hook for billions of dollars – with the lion’s sharegoing to the wealthiest producers.
Click on the map below and zoom in to see what counties have subsidy millionaires, how many insurance policies they hold and the amount of premium subsidies they’re collecting on those policies.
Note: The dots represent the counties where the top subsidy recipients operate but are not necessarily in the exact location where a given producer owns land. Size of dots reflects number of policies held by the top recipients in that county.