Multiplicity of farm programs

A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office discusses the extent of farm subsidies in the US.

A few interesting bits:

From fiscal years 2008 through 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported spending about $114 billion on 60 programs providing financial assistance to farmers, including about $28 billion in crop insurance subsidies.

Although, interestingly enough . . .

except crop insurance subsidies, most of the estimated 2.2 million farms reported receiving no program payments from 2008 through 2011


about 37 percent (800,000) received a payment from at least one farm program. Farms receiving payments reported receiving $11,293 on average (median payment of $3,719) annually from various programs. Payments were higher if a farm received assistance from multiple farm programs—less than 1 percent of farms received payments of $57,899 on average (median payment of $27,412) annually from multiple programs. Larger farms or farms producing cash grains such as corn were more likely to receive payments from multiple programs than small farms or farms producing other crops. Larger farms also received more crop insurance premium subsidies than other farms.


One of the things that can happen when there are so many over-lapping programs is that activities which appear to reduce risk may, in fact, do the opposite.  For example, here is a paper by Keith Coble and colleagues from a few years back showing that hedging in the futures market - an activity long thought to reduce price risk - may actually increase risk when a farmer is enrolled in other insurance government programs.