Farm subsidies favor South, irking other regions


By April Simpson, The Michigan Advance

February 7, 2020


Lenci Sickler, a fifth-generation farmer who oversees more than 10,000 acres in western North Dakota, stops short of saying whether farmers in southern states are better off than his peers in the Midwest.


The payment rates vary by county, but a 2019 federal payment program intended to help farmers facing low prices caused by President Donald Trumpís trade war with China has paid the South higher rates than the Midwest.


The payments are intended to support farmers for crops like soybeans and corn that were subject to retaliatory tariffs from China. In North Dakota, which typically sends more than two-thirds of its soybeans to China, itís more expensive to send exports to new markets such as Europe.


Lawmakers, academics and farmers question whether the aid has favored certain regions and states, and whether the payments line up with farmersí actual economic losses.


Local farmers in western North Dakota, whose counties are generally receiving a lower rate than eastern counties, are disappointed about the rates, though they wonít complain, Sickler said. ďBut itís still a little disheartening to know that we were at the bottom of the list just based on locations.Ē


Farmers in the Midwest face tough decisions heading into the new year after being walloped by historic rain and flooding on top of trade uncertainties and several years of low commodity prices. Even with the apparent end to Trumpís trade war with China, theyíll continue to endure 2019ís unprecedented economic and weather challenges. Economists predict fewer crops in the Dakotas, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.


Itís likely the U.S. Department of Agriculture will distribute a third tranche of the trade-related payments, called Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments, to farmers who grow soybeans, corn and other crops affected by the tariffs. Itís not yet known who would be eligible, how payments would be distributed or when.


This yearís payments of up to $14.5 billion have been critical to shoring up the farm economy.


They also picked ďwinners and losers between regions and crops,Ē according to a November report from Democratic members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, fueling a partisan fight on Capitol Hill.


The report provides evidence that the 2019 MFP awarded 95% of top payment rates to Southern farmers; helped wealthy farms and foreign companies; and offered no long-term investment or plan for rebuilding lost markets. The minority members represent the Corn Belt, West and Northeast.


But states in the Midwest, which have more farmers and farm acreage, have received the highest payouts across two years of the program...