Key Issues > Farm Programs
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Farm Programs

In the early 1930s, when American agriculture was hit hard by drought and economic disaster, Congress enacted legislation to protect farmers against the risks of low crop prices and bad weather, among other things. Since then, Congress has periodically passed legislation to help farmers manage the risks inherent to agriculture.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers programs to support farm income, assist farmers after disasters, and conserve natural resources. USDA provides this support through agricultural subsidies and insurance, which cost about $20 billion annually.

Increased federal budget deficits and record levels of farm income and prices for major crops have heightened the need to ensure that farm program funds are spent as economically, efficiently, and effectively as possible. However, USDA’s implementation and oversight of these programs is not always effective, and some programs may have unintended consequences or work at cross purposes to other programs. For instance, of the roughly 875,000 farmers participating in the crop insurance program in 2011, 3.9 percent received 32.6 percent of the $7.4 billion provided for premium subsidies (see figure 1).


Figure 1: Percentage of Farmers and Value of Premium Subsidies, by Individual Farmers Receiving Subsidies of $40,000 or Less, or More than $40,000 in 2011

Percentage of Farmers and Value of Premium Subsidies, by Individual Farmers Receiving Subsidies of $40,000 or Less, or More than $40,000 in 2011


Figure 2 shows the locations of the farmers who received more than $40,000 in crop insurance premium subsidies for 2011. According to officials of USDA’s Risk Management Agency, regions such as the plains states might include more farmers who received more than $40,000 in premium subsidies because farmers in the region have large-acreage farms; produce high-value crops, such as sugar beets; or have higher premium rates.


Figure 2: Locations of Farmers Receiving Premium Subsidies of More Than $40,000, 2011

Locations of Farmers Receiving Premium Subsidies of More Than $40,000, 2011

Looking for our recommendations? Click on any report to find each associated recommendation and its current implementation status.

U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Workforce Decisions Could Benefit from Better Linkage to Missions and Use of Leading Practices
Published: Mar 31, 2014. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 2014.

Farm Programs:

Changes Are Needed to Eligibility Requirements for Being Actively Involved in Farming
Published: Sep 26, 2013. Publicly Released: Oct 17, 2013.

Farm Programs:

Additional Steps Needed to Help Prevent Payments to Participants Whose Incomes Exceed Limits
Published: Aug 29, 2013. Publicly Released: Aug 29, 2013.

Farm Programs:

USDA Needs to Do More to Prevent Improper Payments to Deceased Individuals
Published: Jun 28, 2013. Publicly Released: Jul 29, 2013.

Crop Insurance:

Savings Would Result from Program Changes and Greater Use of Data Mining
Published: Mar 13, 2012. Publicly Released: Apr 12, 2012.

More Reports

Crop Insurance:

Considerations in Reducing Federal Premium Subsidies
Published: Aug 8, 2014. Publicly Released: Sep 8, 2014.

USDA Farm Programs:

Agriculture and Food:

Civil Rights:

Additional Actions in Pigford II Claims Process Could Reduce Risk of Improper Determinations
Published: Dec 7, 2012. Publicly Released: Dec 7, 2012.

Farm Programs:

Direct Payments Should Be Reconsidered
Published: Jul 3, 2012. Publicly Released: Jul 3, 2012.

Seafood Safety:

Responsibility for Inspecting Catfish Should Not Be Assigned to USDA
Published: May 10, 2012. Publicly Released: Jun 8, 2012.

Farm Bill:

Issues to Consider for Reauthorization
Published: Apr 24, 2012. Publicly Released: Apr 24, 2012.

USDA Systems Modernization:

Management and Oversight Improvements Are Needed
Published: Jul 20, 2011. Publicly Released: Jul 20, 2011.

U.S. Department of Agriculture:

More Effective Management and Performance Can Help Implementation of the Farm Bill
Published: Jun 23, 2011. Publicly Released: Jun 23, 2011.

USDA Crop Disaster Programs:

Lessons Learned Can Improve Implementation of New Crop Assistance Program
Published: Jun 4, 2010. Publicly Released: Jun 4, 2010.
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