Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ever wonder how farmers get paid for not planting crops? Here is my explanation as it pertains to the new farm bill. Enlightening...

I have been semi-immersing myself in learning about the new Farm Bill that was recently passed and signed into law that will dictate US farm policy for the next 5 years.

I even attended an online seminar sponsored by the US Dept of Agriculture whose target audience was farmers who wanted to learn more about the changes in the law.  It is complex and if you want to learn more yourself, please go HERE for all you can consume.

Here is an interesting tidbit I learned I cannot get my mind wrapped around.  Very strange, in my opinion.

Say I am a farmer and have 1000 acres of land suitable for growing Wheat or Soybeans.  Assume my planting history shows I use 500 acres for wheat and 500 acres for soybeans.

For the purposes of satisfying the requirements of the Farm Bill, this 50/50 allocation of acres is what I declare as my "Base Acres" for claiming subsidies or any other government program for which I may be entitled.  So far so good.

Now, suppose next year I KNOW the price of soybean per bushel is going to be high and the price of wheat per bushel is going to be low---very low.  So low, in fact, it will be lower than the legal PRICE FLOOR that was set in the Farm Bill.  According to the Farm Bill, if the market price is below the Price Floor set in by the Farm Bill I am entitled to a payment (or subsidy) equal to the difference between the two prices PER BUSHEL of the crop---in this case wheat.

Here is what I am going to do:  Not plant ANY wheat and plant 1,000 acres of soybeans. Yes, can do that even though I have declared a 50/50 split based on historical plantings

I am going to sell my 1,000 acre harvest of soybeans for the high market price.  GOOD FOR ME, RIGHT?

It gets better.

Subsidies are paid on declared BASE ACRES, not actual harvest of a crop.  Since 500 of my 1,000 acres are declared for wheat I can receive the subsidy for WHEAT on those 500 acres even though I grew NO WHEAT AT ALL.

So, based on average historical bushels of wheat per acre harvested, I will receive that number times the subsidy (the difference between the Price Floor and the actual market price for wheat at the time) times the number of acres.

If the subsidy is $1.00 and the average yield is 47 bushels per acre then that = $47.00 per acre. I have 500 base acres in wheat so $47.00 X 500 =  $23,500.  For growing no wheat.

I told you. Strange, right.

This is the way it was explained to me.  If I have any details wrong or there is more to the story let me know. Always open to revisions.

Note:  The average farm is much less than 1,000 acres and the subsidy payout is likely much LESS than $1.00 ( could be just pennies).  So both those numbers I used are, in most cases, over-stated.

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