ByEmily Featherston, Lee Zurik, Jackson Hicks and Jamie Grey, InvestigateTV |
Billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are directed each year to the country’s farms to help keep agriculture afloat when times get tough. But the federal government is sending millions of these subsidy dollars in the names of people who live and work hundreds of miles from the farms that get the money.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture sets an industry definition for family farms. But that definition doesn’t take acreage size into consideration and can include operations where the family may not own the land, or even farm it. It defines what a family farm is for a consistent technical term in research and policy, which includes farm subsidies.
The largest federal farm payments were disproportionately paid to farm operations primarily made up of managers, or those who did not actively work on the farm, according to a new government watchdog report released in May. Farm investors and managers received nearly $260 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidy payments in 2015, the Government Accountability Office reported. The top 19 operations receiving farm subsidies in 2015 had an average of nine managers receiving payments.
Steve Morris, Director of Natural Resources and Environment for the GAO, said a trend identified in 2013 is still evident in the 2015 data. “When you look at the definition of ‘actively engaged’ and how that’s breaking out, I think some of those patterns remain consistent,” he said.