Actually growing food on Illinois farms

I’m opposed to farm subsidies in general, but beyond that, I don’t claim a special expertise on agricultural policy. I simply haven’t ever had the time to look into it. But this seems like a good idea. Merely as a consumer having more locally grown, fresher produce seems to make sense. Also, listen to this interview with Michael Pollan for a broader perspective.

What’s your farm subsidy?

In an earlier post, I highlighted a progressive plan for balancing the budget. In it, the author calls for cutting agricultural subsidies. And that got me thinking close to home.

Thanks to the Farm Subsidy Database from the Environmental Working Group, we can come up with some dollar figures and comparisons.

Not too suprising, Illinois is a top recipient of agricultural subsidies. From 1995-2006, it received $13.4 billion dollars in subsidies, or about 7.6% of all subsidies during that time. That placed it behind #1 Texas (9.1%) and #2 Iowa (9%).

To add some perspective to seemingly big numbers, though, in 2006, Illinois got $1 billion dollars in agricultural subsidies. But the state’s Gross Domestic Product (income) during that year, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, was $584 billion. That’s .17% of Illinois’ GDP.

Given that I live near Peoria, I think an interesting way to slice this is by congressional district. From 1995-2006, the 18th U.S. House district (then represented by Ray LaHood) got 15.6% of Illinois’ total subsidy, putting it at #3 behind the 15th and 19th districts.

There are some other interesting ways to slice the data that you can try on your own. For example, our neighbor to the east, McLean County (Bloomington-Normal), got the most amount of subsidies.

What’s my upshot? The numbers are big, but certainly smaller on a proportional basis than I thought they would be. I still think that agricultural subsidies should be cut or completely reorganized because of their impact on food policy for the whole country. I guess I’m not surprised that the 18th Congressional district was high on the list of recipients. But it is strange, given my perception of the politics around here, that such a welfare program – $157 million in 2006 alone – would be allowed to stand…