Trump pledged to help small farms, but aid is going to big ones

Mike Dorning

With agriculture caught in the crossfire of the U.S.-China trade war, Donald Trump promised he would help embattled small farmers. So far though, big farms have been the main beneficiaries of the billions being distributed in aid payments.

Half of the Trump administration’s latest trade-war bailout for farmers went to just a 10th of recipients in the program, according to an analysis of payments by an environmental organization. The study showed that the main recipients have been skewed toward larger operations and wealthier producers.

The top 1% of beneficiaries from the trade aid received 13% of the money distributed in the first round of payments under this year’s Market Facilitation Program, with an average payment of more than $177,000. But the bottom 80% of recipients received an average payment of $5,136, according to the Environmental Working Group, which analyzed records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

A farmer plows down the remaining corn stalks at this farm near Shanksville, Pa. Somerset County on Tuesday, November 19, 2019.

The group’s funders include foundations and companies, including organic-food producers such as Stonyfield Farm and Organic Valley.

The analysis echoes the findings of an assessment of last year’s trade aid payment that also found benefits were titled toward large farms. That’s likely to stoke criticism of the cost of the $28 billion bailout and accusations of inequities.

Senate Democrats earlier this month issued a report arguing Trump’s trade aid favors Southern farmers at the expense of their counterparts in the Midwest and Northern Plains, growers of cotton over soybeans, and large producers over smaller ones.

“America’s farm safety-net is broken,” Anne Weir Schechinger, a senior analyst with Environmental Working Group, said in a statement. “Instead of helping small farmers that have been hurt by the Trump administration’s trade war, Trump’s Agriculture Department is wantonly distributing billions of taxpayer dollars to the largest and wealthiest farms.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement earlier this month, the agency defended the program against charges of inequities saying the payment formula is “based on trade damage, not based on region or farm size.”

The Trump administration announced an additional $16 billion round of trade aid for farmers this year as the trade dispute with China drags on. That’s on top of a $12 billion pledge in 2018.

This year’s payments are being made in three tranches. The Environmental Working Group analysis looked at payments made in the first tranche, from Aug. 19 through Oct. 31, totaling about $6 billion. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced earlier this month the USDA would proceed with a second tranche of aid payments this year, beginning before Thanksgiving.