Monday, December 08, 2008

"Industrial Livestock at the Taxpayer Trough"

The Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment (CFFE) today released a report by Elanor Starmer, entitled "Industrial Livestock at the Taxpayer Trough: How Large Hog and Dairy Operations are Subsidized by the Environmental Quality Incentives Program":
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) was approved by Congress in 1996 with the backing of many family farm and conservation-focused organizations. Designed to provide cost-share and incentive payments to agricultural producers to address resource concerns on their farms, it has been used over the years by thousands of farmers nationwide to make environmental improvements that benefit the land and their communities.

The 2002 Farm Bill opened up EQIP for use by industrial livestock operations, which house thousands of animals and generate massive quantities of manure. They often lack sufficient farmland on which to apply animal waste or make irresponsible management decisions in applying it, generating air or water pollution; the burden of addressing the pollution often falls on public services or community members living near the operations. When Congress made EQIP funds available to these operations in 2002, stakeholders worried that it would further subsidize an environmentally destructive method of production and that the share of funding available for the program’s original targets – small and mid-sized operations – would be diminished.

The 2002 Farm Bill also severely restricted public access to information about the size of EQIP contracts and the practices that they fund. Moreover, the administrator of the program, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, lacks the funding and mandate to track EQIP payments by the size of livestock operation receiving them. As a result, even though animal waste is now a priority issue for the program, there is no way for the public or policymakers to know how industrial operations are using the funds or to assess whether EQIP is subsidizing their expansion.

This report uses the limited data that is publicly available to investigate the use of EQIP by industrial hog and dairy operations nationally and in the states of Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri. It finds that nationwide, these operations receive far more than their fair share of EQIP funding.

Although industrial hog operations comprise only 10.7% of all hog operations nationally, they receive an estimated 37% of all EQIP contracts to the hog sector. In contrast, mid-sized hog farms represent roughly 15% of all operations but receive only 5.4% of EQIP hog contracts.

Similarly, the report finds that industrial dairies make up only 3.9% of all dairy operations nationally, yet they receive an estimated 54% of all EQIP dairy contracts. Meanwhile, mid-sized dairies, which account for 13% of all dairies nationally, receive only 7% of EQIP dairy contracts.

This report estimates that between 2003 and 2007, roughly 1,000 industrial hog and dairy operations have captured at least $35 million per year in funding through the EQIP program....

While EQIP continues to be used by many livestock and crop producers to carry out environmentally beneficial practices, a disproportionate share of funds now flows to highly polluting livestock operations. This is a fundamental flaw in the policy and may jeopardize the goals and long-term effectiveness of the program. Moreover, the program suffers from a lack of oversight and insufficient record keeping. As a result, it lacks public accountability.

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