Here’s an excerpt from Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns’ remarks to the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation in Nashville on August 9th.

Now you’re looking at that map and you’re saying to yourself, Mike, you’re the Secretary of Agriculture, and you’re supposed to be talking about agriculture and that looks like a map of a city. It is a map of a city. In fact that’s a map of Manhattan in New York City. But I can be even more specific. One of those streets on the right-hand side of that map is Park Avenue. Now if you’ve ever had an opportunity to visit that part of the world, these folks live in very, very expensive housing. Let me put it that way. This is some of the most expensive property anywhere worldwide, certainly in the United States. What are all those dots? People who are receiving farm subsidy payments under the Farm Bill.

graph - Manhattan farmers

What are those big dots where it looked like somebody’s red ink pen bled? Those are people receiving over a quarter million dollars annually.

Now ladies and gentlemen, there isn’t a person, a farmer in America and I think I know them because I grew up with them and I’ve been around farmers my whole life that believes that’s what should be happening with our farm programs. And I’ll go even further. I believe America supports our farmers, but we have to make the case whether we’re in town or in the country that these programs make sense, that they are a wise federal policy and a good investment for food security and now fuel security.

And I feel strongly we can make that case. But I also feel strongly we’ve got to deal with these kinds of issues or we’ll lose support for what we’re doing. And so that’s why we have worked to try to figure out the best approach to dealing with this payment limit issue.

The House passed a farm bill on July 27th on a 231-191 vote. The vote was largely party line: all but 14 Ds voted aye, and all but 19 Rs voted nay.

As a reminder:

  • Current law: Farmers with annual net income of $2.49 M can receive government commodity payments. Farmers with incomes >$2.5 M cannot. Loopholes exist to make even this limit largely ineffective. Just under a million (985,000) farm operators receive payments now.
  • House committee bill: Farmers with annual net income of $999 K can receive government commodity payments. Farmers with incomes $1 M cannot, but some married couples can be treated separately, making the effective limit $2 M. This provision will cut off farm payments from roughly 3,200 farm operators. In addition, some (but not many) of the roughly 4,000 farm operators with incomes between $500K and $1 M will also be cut off. So the total number of farmers cut off is between about 3,200 and about 7,200, and most likely closer to the lower number.
  • President’s proposal: Farmers with a three-year average annual net income of $199 K can receive government commodity payments. Farmers with incomes >$200 K cannot. Current law loopholes are eliminated or substantially tightened. This will cut off farm payments for about 38,000 farmers.

We should not be giving farm subsidy payments to upper-income residents of Manhattan. This is one of several reasons why we argue that the next Farm Bill needs more reform than the House-passed farm bill. And it’s a reason why we shouldn’t continue current law by extending the Farm bill.