A report released December 8, 2008 exposes how industrial hog and dairy operations are subsidized through the federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The report, entitled "Industrial Livestock at the Taxpayer Trough," estimates that between 2003 and 2007, roughly 1,000 industrial hog and dairy operations have captured at least $35 million per year in taxpayer support through EQIP.
Representatives of the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment (CFFE), a coalition of family farm organizations in the Midwest, say the report gives further evidence that the factory farm industry is reliant on taxpayer funding.
"This report demonstrates what family farmers have known for years-this corporate-controlled, industrial model of livestock production can't survive without taxpayer support," said Rhonda Perry, a livestock farmer with the Missouri Rural
Crisis Center from Howard County, Missouri. "Taxpayers should not have to foot-the-bill for this corporate welfare that is fueling the industrialization of the livestock industry at the expense of family farmers, rural communities and the environment."
EQIP was established in the 1996 Farm Bill as a cost-share program targeted at family farmers to help them incorporate conservation practices into their farming operations. However, the 2002 Farm Bill opened the program to factory farms, allowing them to use EQIP to help them expand their operations to the tune of $450,000 over five years.
"I have used the EQIP program and found it to be valuable," said Jon Peterson, Land Stewardship Project member and dairy farmer from Peterson, MN. "I believe the focus has shifted from helping small to mid-size operations find cost effective solutions to environmental concerns. It now seems to be a production subsidy to help large confinement operations expand. It is as if the bigger the pollution risk an applicant can create the greater his chances of getting funding."
In addition to highlighting factory farms' excessive use of EQIP funds, the report also points to a lack of disclosure within the taxpayer-funded program. A provision in the 2002 Farm Bill prohibited the USDA from releasing specific information about conservation contracts--how participants in these taxpayer-funded programs are using the money.
"That means that the public can't evaluate whether program funds are being used effectively and whether they result in real environmental benefits," said Elanor Starmer, the author of the report. "There is no reason to restrict public access to conservation payment information when we can access information on other programs, such as commodity payments. As it stands, EQIP suffers from an unacceptable lack of accountability."
At the insistence of family farm organizations nationwide, the 2008 Farm Bill lowered the amount of funding operations can receive through EQIP from $450,000 to $300,000 over the life of the Farm Bill. USDA will likely conduct rule-making before the end of the year. As a part of that process, there will be an opportunity for the public to weigh in during the comment period. CFFE is also urging Congress and President-Elect Obama to reform the program based on the report's recommendations:
- EQIP should be structured to deliver the maximum amount of environmental performance for the least amount of taxpayer money. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) should return to prioritizing contracts based on cost-efficiency, not on the level of pollution generated by the operation.
- The amount of funding available to an individual operator should be capped at $150,000 per operation.
- EQIP should not subsidize the construction or expansion of industrial livestock operations. USDA and Congress should prohibit EQIP funding for waste facilities on all new and expanding industrial livestock operations.
- Taxpayers and policymakers deserve to know how EQIP funds are being used. Legislators should strike existing language prohibiting USDA from releasing detailed information on the use and amount of conservation program contracts.
- Congress should appropriate money to NRCS and instruct the agency to track EQIP funding to livestock operations by size category and amount of manure generated by the operation.
"During his campaign, President-elect Obama said conservation programs like EQIP should help family farmers use good environmental practices, not fund corporate expansion," said Vern Tigges, member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and family farmer from Carroll, IA. "He needs to make this a priority and stop factory farms from abusing taxpayer-funded programs like EQIP."
CFFE is leading the fight against the corporate takeover of the hog industry and working for policies supporting independent family farmers. Member groups include: Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Land Stewardship Project (MN), and the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.
Editor's note: We are saddened to hear about the resignation of Doyle Childers, director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (put "Doyle Childers" in the search box on our homepage). He so often filled our webpages with his positions regarding small farming operations vs. CAFOs and preservation of the environment.