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Agriculture Subsidy Data Sure to Stir Up a Dish of Resentment

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Photo of happy, maybe heavily subsidized cows <a href="">by David Baron</a>
Photo of happy, maybe heavily subsidized cows by David Baron

Earlier this week, the Environmental Working Group released the latest numbers on American farm subsidies. California ranked ninth in the nation last year, even though 91 percent of the state's farmers didn't receive anything, making it the only state not in the midwest to crack the top ten.

So who's harvesting the cash crop? Large cotton farms. Yes, cotton, with 12,144 recipients hauling in nearly $2.9 billion over the last fifteen years. The largest subsidize food crop in the state was rice, with 7,252 farmers receiving a little over $2.4 billion, all to keep Dov Charney's sexy American Apparel mills a-spinning.

Fitting the national trends, the state's top ten subsidized crops are rounded out by meat, dairy and grain. Disaster payments were third, while the conservation reserve program -- meant to fund fields laying fallow to reduce soil erosion and provide wildlife habitat -- was a measly ninth at around $80 million.

What's not on the list of top funded crops? Fruits, vegetables and nuts, of which the state produces the majority in the country, and which a nation of fatties should probably be eating more of. More worrisome than what crops are being subsidized is the fact that the top ten percent of the state's farms collected 73 percent of the $9.21 billion total, meaning the handouts originally intended for depression-era family farmers are mostly going to the largest operations.

So if you ever wanted to know why those local, organic, free range eggs can cost up to a dollar each at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market while salt-and-sugar-packed Lunchables-brand snacks are on sale for $0.98 at FoodsCo, well, there you go.

California Summary [EWG Farm Subsidy Database]
Crop subsidies found to help largest farms most [SFGate]
Know Your Farm Subsidies, Know Your Food [The Atlantic]