2005 August 03 Wednesday
California San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Subsidies Tallied

Big pieces of California's agricultural industry runs on government subsidies.

OAKLAND, Calif., Aug. 3 Some of America's richest agribusinesses are double dipping from U.S. taxpayers' pockets at a rate of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, according to an Environmental Working Group (EWG) computer investigation of federal crop and water subsidies to California's Central Valley Project (CVP).

At a time of record federal budget deficits and scarce, expensive water, thousands of Central Valley farms get cheap, taxpayer-subsidized water to grow surplus crops the government subsidizes a second time with price supports. EWG found that in 2002, the latest year for which figures are available for both types of subsidies, the approximately 6,800 farms in the CVP, the largest federally-operated irrigation system in the nation, took in by conservative estimate $538 million in crop and water subsidies combined.

EWG found:

  • More than one in four CVP farms got double subsidies for at least one year between 1995 and 2004. Crop subsidy checks to these farms in that period totaled more than $891 million. These farms received more than $152 million worth of water subsidies in 2002 alone, so their combined subsidy take over ten years could well top $2 billion.
  • Roughly one-third of the subsidized irrigation water the CVP delivered in 2002 went to grow crops eligible for subsidies from the Department of Agriculture. Cotton and rice growers were the biggest subsidy sweepstakes winners by far. These crops received one-fourth of the irrigation water and 92 percent of the crop subsidies in the system.
  • Some California dairy operations are not double dippers but triple dippers. They receive taxpayer-subsidized water to grow corn, for which they receive crop subsidies. They feed the corn to cattle to produce milk, cheese and other products eligible for federal dairy subsidies. These triple dippers received more than $3 million in combined subsidies in 2002.

Long term subsidized water contracts are locking in the subsidies for decades to come.

In 2002, the ten biggest double dippers in California reaped almost $20 million in water and crop subsidies combined. The five biggest Dresick Farms of Huron, Burford Ranch of Fresno, Hansen Ranches of Corcoran, Sumner Peck Ranches of Madera, and Starrh & Starrh Cotton Growers of Shafter each received more than $2 million in combined federal subsidies in 2002.


The Bureau of Reclamation is in the process of renewing long-term contracts for CVP irrigation districts that promise 43 percent more subsidized water by 2030, even though hundreds of thousands of acres are going out of crop production. Renewing the water contracts at bargain-basement prices, while ignoring the inherent conflict of growing subsidized crops with subsidized water, will lock in double dipping for another 25 to 50 years.

Meanwhile, the federal crop subsidy program grows more bloated each year, with new EWG figures showing $12.5 billion in price supports paid nationwide in 2004. The U.S. is under pressure to comply with a World Trade Organization ruling that U.S. cotton subsidies are illegal and harmful to Third World economies. Earlier this year, President Bush proposed reducing crop subsidies, then backed down after an outcry from the farm lobby.

One wonders how much money these big farmers give to Congressional campaigns. Do Congress reps sell themselves cheaply? Or are they high-priced courtesans?

Also, how many cheap illegal aliens do these farms employ? What is the subsidy cost for their medical care, education for their children, and other costs picked up by taxpayers?

I remember first learning that rice is grown in Calfornia. When one thinks of rice one thinks of historic Southeast Asian rice paddies where torrential rains provide the water needed. Growing rice in the desert in a state short on water can only be done with government intervention to pay for it.

It is good that environmental groups have joined economists and taxpayers in arguing against agricultural subsidies Now, if only environmental groups would return to their embrace of population control which so many of them embraced in the 1970s they could support efforts that will do far more to protect the environment than would be accomplished by cuts in agricultural subsidies. To make that shift the environmental groups would have to come out against immigration. But the liberal fools think posturing as unracist is more important than protecting the environment and quality of life in America.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 August 03 10:06 AM  Politics Money

John S Bolton said at August 3, 2005 1:00 PM:

There should be an income tax on water subsidies at the same rate as other income must pay. Cartago delendo est! They bring in illegals in a constant stream on to net public subsidy. Giving water to the fish would save the net taxpayer large amounts, but the ecologists do not tell us about these abuses, and especially not the subsidies used by immigrant farm workers in irrigation agriculture. Diversion of water to urban use would involve quite commonly more than a tenfold increase in value gained on net balance. Instead of reason on these issues we get teary sentiment of the suffering farmer and the poor wetback with a dream of riches. May their fields be salted, in order that their descendants may not come back to reclaim them in a hundred years. Irrigation agriculture is the disgrace of our nation; it consumes subsidies at huge expense, double and triple dipping into the subsidies, and wages war on the quality of population by continually replacing their illegal aliens, because these operations are hyperexploitative. Exploitation of such intensity, which uses up and destroys its recruits so quickly that only a continual new supply of illegals can suffice, is a ruiner of our minimum standards. They create poverty, and everyone else has to pay for it.

Stephen said at August 3, 2005 9:37 PM:

Point the public teat in a farmer's direction and he'll suck on it - whether he's hungry or not. That said, so would most everyone.

FriendlyFire said at August 4, 2005 4:45 AM:

Here in Australia for the first time serious consideration of abandoning high water usage crops such as rice and cotten. Which can only be grown econimically due to the willful waste of limited water. Instead less water intensive corps are now being pushed onto the farmers.

Derek Copold said at August 4, 2005 1:09 PM:

As John alluded to, these companies also use cheap illegal alien labor, but what's more galling is that these subsidized crops destroyed a lot Mexico's rural economy after NAFTA lowered Mexico's protective tarrifs. So, we not only pay to water the crops, we also pay to dispossess Mexico's campesinos and ultimately ourselves. Expect another round of similar dispossessions to take place now that CAFTA has been muscled through.

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