University of Michigan Gateway Ford School

Michigan Agriculture: How Farm Subsidies are Killing Growth and the Environment

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April 2017

Kohlton Johnson

Abstract

With 2014’s Agricultural Act, otherwise known as the “Farm Bill” signed by President Obama at Michigan State University, there was a new doubling-down on federal subsidies as well as a new investment in young, beginner farmers. This is in response to a thirty-year trend within the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) census data conveying the ever-increasing age of the average American farmer which is now almost 60 years of age as well as a 4.3 percent reduction in overall farmers. Michigan in particular has seen a 7 percent loss in number of farms as well as an overall 1 percent reduction in land used for farming. In this investment effort, the federal government will subsidize or fully grant education and training about farm management, improve access to a variety of crop insurances, as well as provides different loans and loan assistance. However, I argue that although these subsidies provide a foundation for beginner farmers, the current crop subsidies in place do not allow for sustaining this new growth. Additionally, both the subsidies and grants targeting new, young farmers as well as the crop subsidies benefiting larger agribusiness create harmful consequences for Michigan’s environmental quality.

I will argue these claims through three points. First, current federal subsidies overall hinder beginner farmers, preventing sustainability, by giving advantage to already large agribusiness through crop subsidies. Second, Michigan’s lax regulations on conditions of subsidizing agricultural practices – both on large and small farm operations – greatly threaten Michigan’s environmental quality. Third, the previous points showcase an unnecessary cost to tax payers that could otherwise be invested or spent to grow the economy elsewhere. Lastly, since the Farm Bill is up for renegotiation and possible renewal in the year 2018, I will recommend some policy changes to both the federal subsidies programs seen as well as Michigan’s own environmental regulations, so that these subsidies can be the most advantageous for all Michigan residents.

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