Field of schemes: The taxpayer and economic welfare costs of shallow-loss farming programs

Article Highlights

  • Shallow-loss programs could cost taxpayers $8-$14 billion a year over the next five years.

    Tweet This

  • Farmers want a guarantee that their revenues will not fall below 90 percent of recent levels.

    Tweet This

  • Farm-based shallow-loss programs will provide incentives for moral hazard behaviors on the part of farmers.

    Tweet This

Key Findings Field of schemes: The taxpayer and economic welfare costs of shallow-loss farming programs

Download PDF

  • Shallow-loss programs are costly: Depending on structure and crop prices, these programs could cost the taxpayer as much as or more than the direct payments program they would replace, averaging as much as $8 to $14 billion a year over the next five years.

 

  • Shallow-loss programs amount to a new entitlement: Payments would be automatically triggered by revenue shortfalls and would be linked to average revenues over the past five years. So, when prices and yields increase, payment triggers will also increase, creating a new, partially disguised entitlement program that locks farmers into near-record incomes at the taxpayer’s expense.

 

  • Shallow-loss programs based on farm-level yields create incentives for the wasteful use of economic resources by buying down deductibles associated with federal crop insurance: Farmers would reap the benefits of record crop yields and prices. However, because a high percentage of revenues are guaranteed, farmers may adopt more risky farming techniques.

 

  • The Congressional Budget Office’s cost estimates for shallow-loss programs assume that recent historically high prices will be sustained: If corn, wheat, soybean, rice, and cotton prices return to the average levels observed between 1996 and 2011, however, program costs will balloon. A county-based program would cost taxpayers between $8.4 and $13.98 billion, depending on the rate of reimbursement. The Stabenow-Roberts shallow-loss proposal would likely cost taxpayers between $5 billion and $7 billion, depending on the mix of farm-based and county-based programs.

 

  • Shallow-loss programs will perpetuate the federal farm program tradition of giving the majority of subsidies to farms that do not need them in the first place: Shallow-loss subsidies, like direct payments and crop insurance subsidies, would be tied to the amount of land that households farm. Consequently, the largest and wealthiest farmers enjoy built-in buffers in the form of substantial equity in their farm operations (debt-to-asset ratios average less than 9 percent in the entire American agricultural sector). These individuals would receive the lion’s share of shallow-loss subsidy payments.

 

Vincent H. Smith is a professor of economics at Montana State University and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Bruce A. Babcock is a professor of economics at Iowa State University.

Barry K. Goodwin is the William Neil Reynolds Professor of Agricultural Economics at North Carolina State University.

 

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Vincent H.
Smith

What's new on AEI

Making Ryan's tax plan smarter
image The teacher evaluation confronts the future
image How to reform the US immigration system
image Inversion hysteria
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 01
    MON
  • 02
    TUE
  • 03
    WED
  • 04
    THU
  • 05
    FRI
Wednesday, September 03, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
From anarchy to Augustus: Lessons on dealing with disorder, from Rome’s first emperor

We invite you to join us for two panel discussions on how Augustus created order from chaos 2,000 years ago, and what makes for durable domestic and international political systems in the 21st century.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Multiple choice: Expanding opportunity through innovation in K–12 education

Please join us for a book launch event and panel discussion about how a marketplace of education options can help today's students succeed in tomorrow's economy. Attendees will receive a complimentary copy of the featured book.

Thursday, September 04, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
How conservatives can save the safety net

Please join us for a luncheon event in which our panel will discuss what conservatives can learn from how liberals talk and think about the safety net and where free-market economics, federalism, and social responsibility intersect to lift people out of poverty.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.