Federal farm supports go to 6.2 million Americans through 33 programs. Here’s how the biggest programs work and what they cost in Washington and Idaho during the past 10 years:
Price supports, also known as deficiency payments, support wheat, corn and barley whenever prices are low. Wheat racked up a $1.74 billion bill; feed grains, $368.3 million.
The wheat program pays the difference, or deficiency, between a so-called target price of $4 a bushel and the average national market price over a period of months. If the market averages $3.50 a bushel, the government contributes 50 cents to farmers for each qualifying bushel.
Producers, however, can lose payments if they fail to use conservation farming methods. They also can lose income in years when the U.S. Department of Agriculture forces them to set aside a percentage of their crop land to reduce national grain stocks.
The Conservation Reserve Program was created in response to the environmental movement. But farmers responded, too, enrolling 36.5 million acres nationwide, including 1 million in Washington.
Under CRP, the government pays annual rent of $40 to $130 per acre to idle highly erodible farm land for 10 years. Washington and Idaho landowners received $694 million through 1994.
Agricultural conservation provides cost-sharing benefits to farmers and landowners installing water and soil conservation systems or planting trees on the land. More than $74 million has been paid in both states since 1985.
Disaster assistance used to be paid to farmers as cents on the dollar for crops ruined by flooding, frost or hail. That cost taxpayers $165 million in Washington and Idaho.
But the program became too expensive for Congress, so this year it switched farmers to a mandatory crop insurance system that charges a basic $50 sign-up fee.
However, ranchers who run out of pasture during a drought may qualify for emergency payments to save livestock with feed and hay purchases. Emergency money for livestock totaled $20 million in Washington and Idaho.
Storage payments are made to farmers holding grain as collateral for a government loan and when market prices are low. When prices reach the target-price level, payments are suspended. USDA spent more than $45 million in both states on this program.
The government also pays certain grain elevator companies to store grain for national security, ringing up a $62 million bill in Washington and Idaho.