Recipients don’t have to get their hands dirty. Simply owning farmland is enough to trigger payments. As a result, the money has found its way to some surprising places.
The city of Springfield has received more than $300,000 for acreage it owns that may one day become Hunter Lake. Attorney Jon Gray Noll got nearly $77,000 for fallow land enrolled in a conservation program. Bunn-O-Matic Corp. received more than $1 million. County Board Chairman Andy Van Meter, much to his own surprise, collected nearly $130,000 via a limited partnership that takes care of farmland owned by his family, according to government databases.
“I really don’t know anything about the government programs,” Van Meter said. “I can say that I know that this family partnership pays me a portion of the income from the farms.”
But some farmers, say it is time for the government to get out of the farming business:
Larry Huelskoetter, a Logan County farmer who collected $542,000 in subsidies between 1995 and 2005, said payouts are passed through to absentee landlords. And small farmers suffer by having to compete with large producers who, thanks in part to subsidies, operate on thin profit margins.
“If the government wants cheap food, yes, we need some subsidies,” said Huelskoetter, who heads a group called Farmers in Support of Independent Agriculture. “But after you get so big, you don’t need the subsidies. The farming subsidies were designed so that the farmer made a good profit so that he had the ability to take care of the land and do things right.
“There need to be payment limitations with teeth in them, and they need to stop at a certain level.”But it's doubtful much will change:
A subsidy system based on yield and price instead of price alone isn’t a new idea. But some advocates of a revenue system say things are different this year as Congress contemplates the farm bill.
“I think it is pretty amazing, to be honest with you, that revenue proposals continue to be part of the conversation this deep into the process,” said Cark Zulauf, an Ohio State University economist who has been watching federal farm legislation since 1980. “This is as deep into the process as I have seen them on the table.”
But that doesn’t mean Congress will do anything radical.
“There are many precursors to change in place,” Zulauf said. “That’s different from saying we’ll see change. It is always a safe assumption to assume that the farm bill will the be the previous farm bill, slightly modified.”