A report that showed that millions in federal farm payments have gone to urban Americans was characterized here Thursday by a farm state senator as “a tremendous media concoction” that was “irrelevant to the debate over the federal farm bill.”
Sen. Kent Conrad, D.-N.D., told colleagues of the Senate Agriculture Committee that the findings of the Environmental Working Group of Washington, D.C., were flawed and misleading.
The EWG released its report Thursday to the committee. Many of the nation’s newspapers, including The Spokesman-Review, published the findings on the same day.
The study documents that since 1984 taxpayers have spent $1.8 billion of $106 billion in total farm payments to landowners who live in 50 metropolitan politan areas, including such posh areas as Beverly Hills, New York City and Honolulu.
“This kind of story does not have a lot of relevance to discussion of the farm bill,” Conrad told the committee, which is debating the merits of the government’s $10 billion per year farm program.
The EWG study attacks one of the traditional arguments for the government’s farm program - that it is needed to save small family farmers and boost the rural economy.
EWG President Ken Cook, testifying before the committee, said TV news anchor Sam Donaldson and other wealthy non-farmers are among those cashing in on the government’s farm program.
“Surely, we can do better than this,” Cook said.
Conrad agreed that the program still has problems, but he noted that less than 2 percent of the payments went to city residents, meaning 98 percent was getting to farmers and the rural economy.