The top 10 farm subsidy recipients in South Carolina received nearly $48 million over the past 15 years.
Rogers Brothers Farm of Hartsville was the biggest beneficiary of federal agriculture subsidies between 1995 and 2009, receiving $8,231,735, followed by Connelly Farms of Ulmer ($5,778,658) and Mckeowen Farms of Orangeburg ($5,330,305), according to Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit.
As a whole, nearly 46,700 South Carolina farmers received a total of $1.62 billion in subsidies during the 15-year period.
However, the top 10 percent of South Carolina farmers receiving subsidies collected 87 percent of all government largesse, with that upper echelon averaging $16,751 annually between 1995 and 2009, according to data from Environmental Working Group, which is in favor of more equitable distribution of farm subsidies.
At the other end of the spectrum, 70 percent of farmers in South Carolina did not collect any subsidy payments over the same time span, the organization reported.
Agricultural subsidies are a governmental financial support paid to farmers and agribusinesses to supplement their income, manage the supply of agricultural commodities and influence the cost and supply of commodities.
The United States currently pays around $20 billion per year to farmers in direct subsidies as through via U.S. farm bills. These bills date back to the Great Depression and before, including the 1922 Grain Futures Act, the 1929 Agricultural Marketing Act and the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act.
Farm subsidies are a hot-button topic, with detractors pointing to a number of issues:
- There is a myth that subsidy money goes to small family farms but much of it goes to large operations and agribusiness corporations;
- Agriculture subsidies are said to violate trade agreements with other countries and the spirit of unhindered trade because subsidized agriculture is said to be a form of protectionism; and
- There is a belief held by many that farm subsidies are a threat to rural America itself, causing land prices to rise significantly, which makes it hard for young farmers to get started and undermining the family farm by creating incentives for the consolidation of agriculture.
Proponents of agriculture subsidies argue they’re needed for several reasons, including:
- They help ensure a secure food source so that the U.S. doesn’t have to rely upon foreign nations for food;
- American farmers have to meet standards of quality, land maintenance and pesticide use that farmers in other countries do not. This drives up costs for American farmers, requiring subsidies to level the playing field; and
- Farm subsidies keep American food prices among the lowest in the world.
All but one of the top 10 farm subsidy recipients in South Carolina received the largest share of government money for cotton subsidies during the 15-year period.
At the top of that list was Rogers Brothers, which received more than $7 million in cotton subsidies between 1995 and 2009, while Haigler Farms Partnership of Cameron, No. 4 overall in S.C. in terms of federal subsidies, received more than $5 million.
After Rogers Brothers Farm, Connelly Farms, Mckeowen Farms and Haigler Farms, the remaining top 10 agriculture subsidy recipients in South Carolina between 1995 and 2009 were:
- Bruce G Price & Sons, Little Rock, $4,344,283;
- Cotton Lane Farms, Elloree, 29047 $4,267,729;
- Oneal Bros, Blenheim, $3,888,469;
- Southeast Atlantic Grains, Beckley, W.Va., $3,740,922;
- L & S Farms, Pinewood, $3,675,418; and
- W M Smith & Sons, Saint Matthews, $3,620,445.
Other key crop subsidies received by major South Carolina agriculture operations included financial support for corn, wheat, soybeans, oats, sorghum, barley and peanuts. There were also conservation and disaster subsidies dispensed by federal officials.
All information compiled by Environmental Working Group comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, mostly from U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests, according to Alex Formuzis, vice president for media relations for organization.
“We update it annually as the information becomes available,” he added.
In 2009, Rogers Brothers was the top recipient of agriculture support, bringing in more than $800,000 in subsidies. The next closest South Carolina agriculture operation was Bruce G. Price & Sons, which received a little more than $450,000.
Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110, or at email@example.com.