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Jeb Bush’s Iowa Farm Team Harvested Millions in Ag Subsidies

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush announced his “Iowa Farm Team,” on Wednesday, July 30th. As reported by the Iowa Quad City Times’ Ed Tibbets:

Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush on Thursday announced the endorsements of several farmers and other agriculture professions in Iowa.

The campaign said the former Florida governor’s “Iowa Farm Team” would be charged with telling the story of his “commitment to supporting production agriculture” and Iowa’s role in it.

“I respect the good conservative, fiscal and moral values that characterized Jeb Bush’s leadership in Florida,” said Cal Rozenboom, of Oskaloosa, a member of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s board of directors, who also endorsed him. [my emphasis]

It’s hard — dang near impossible — to be part of Iowa’s production agriculture system without having relied on taxpayer funded farm subsidy programs authorized in the federal farm bill. A point easily made by feeding the names from Jeb Bush’s farm team into the Environmental Working Group’s farm subsidy database that pulls in raw data from the US Department of Agriculture. All payments are from 1995-2012. Here’s what the database spits out about his farm team’s subsidies, both either direct or subsidies paid to farms they have ownership stakes in:

Cal Rozenboom – $172, 905

Varel Bailey – $499, 038

Thomas Dorr –  $392, 633

Karol King – $1, 367, 891

Keith Hora – $1,025, 375

Doug Gronau – $674, 768

Keith Heffernan – $83, 510

Tom Barret – $514,087

Jim and Jacque Andrew – $1,066, 789

Thurman Gaskill – $314, 822 and $310, 047

Glenn Keppy – $518, 715

Jim and Nancy Pellett – $830, 261

Harry and Myron Stine – $622, 628

Doran Zumbach – $839, 675

Total: $9.2 million.

Update 8-10-15 (Go here for Scott Walker’s team’s subsidies).

So why does Jeb’s farm team’s millions in federal subsidies matter?

The first and most obvious answer is that by cozying up with subsidized farmers it puts him at odds with a long list of conservative, limited government, and taxpayer rights groups and publications that includes Heritage, Cato, Taxpayers for Common Sense, National Review, American Enterprise Institute. These entities either seek to reform or outright oppose farm subsidies. That’s no small thing in a GOP primary where the deluge of candidates are struggling to out-conservative one another to appeal to far-right primary voters.

The subsidies tracked in the EWG database have morphed over the past few years into a highly subsidized crop insurance program authorized in the last farm bill. But crop insurance is not really insurance. As explained by Iowa State University agriculture economist Bruce Babcock:

You have to remember that federal crop insurance is not an insurance program; it is a welfare program for farmers. It is a way of delivering money to farmers. It is not insurance.

The incorrect sentiment that crop insurance is not somehow just another government giveaway is already bleeding into presidential politics. It gives candidates convenient breathing room to appear conservative by opposing the old forms of subsidies while embracing “insurance” and not alienating the farm lobby and Iowa primary voters.

Here’s Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal on RFD-TV’s Rural Town Hall series when asked about federal support for farmers.

I’m glad to see that over time we have seen reforms to move the federal farm program to more of an insurance program.

Chris Chirstie said this at the Iowa Ag Summit:

I think crop insurance is a good idea.

Scott Walker also voiced support for crop insurance at the same event.

Jeb Bush endorsed the crop insurance program that subsidizes 60% of farmer insurance premiums, also at the Iowa Ag Summit. As reported by DTN/Progressive Farmer’s Chris Clayton:

On crop insurance, Bush said crop insurance was critical to Florida producers when he was governor. He pointed to various hurricanes as well as crop diseases such as citrus greening. “The crop-insurance industry creates a stability that makes it possible in very volatile kinds of situations for farmers to be able to be successful.”

Worse, and what should give big government critics pause, is that crop insurance subsidies are totally secret. We — the taxpayers that fund them — are barred by law to know who gets them or how much. That’s why the data trail goes cold at 2012 for Jeb’s farm team. In the rare case that crop insurance subsidy data has leaked out, we learned that 26 mega farms each received a million dollar subsidy in 2011. And when the Government Accountability Office looked at the program they found some eye-popping statistics about large and wealthy recipients, including that some weren’t even farmers:

For example, more than 70 of the crop insurance participants we identified as among the highest income during 1 or more years from 2009 through 2013 were managers or professionals, including attorneys, executives, or physicians. Four others, who had net worth over $1.5 billion each in 2013, earned their wealth from a variety of sources in addition to farming, such as mining, real estate, sports, and information technology, according to publicly available information. Those participants each insured an average of about 18,200 acres, had approximately $118,400 in premium subsidies provided on their behalf, and collected about $38,300 in claims payments during the 5-year period.

The old subsidy regime in the EWG database was grossly inequitable. It funneled billions to mega farms and wealthy landowners over small, struggling farms.  Bush’s brother and former president George W. Bush vetoed the farm bill in part because it did little to reform those subsidies. Crop insurance largely benefits the same handful of America’s largest farms — though it does also benefit smaller farmers and a more diverse pool.

Jeb has made louder noises about phasing out the ethanol mandate, another farm country federal support program. But by larding up his farm team with the historically subsidized and by endorsing crop insurance, he could be trying to split the difference between looking conservative while appealing to Iowa primary voters.

Image of Jeb Bush the Iowa Ag Summit from the New York Times.

 

Don Carr

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