Montana Public Radio

New Farm Subsidies Helpful, But Not Perfect, Montana Farm Bureau Says

Jan 6, 2021

The new coronavirus relief stimulus package passed by Congress and signed by President Trump will introduce $20-per-acre farm subsidies. Experts say it will help Montana farmers, but might not be the fix farmers want.

Montana Farm Bureau vice president and small grains farmer Cynthia Johnson said it is going to take some time before we fully know what the new stimulus package will mean for farmers — because it’s a big bill. Either way, she said it is going to keep a lot of farmers in business.

"It's going to make the difference of keeping the land in production or turning it into a subdivision," Johnson said.

The per-acre payment builds on federal- and state-level grant and loan programs approved earlier this year to keep agricultural producers afloat. But Johnson said it would be better for Montana farmers to have stable access to markets both domestic and abroad.

"There's a whole lot of personal satisfaction of being able to put the seed in the ground, or put that little calf out to pasture and raise it and grow it, produce food and feed the country and feed the world," she said.

Johnson is also hopeful the COVID vaccine will bring an end to barriers caused by the virus. That includes issues with producing food, such as outbreaks in processing plants, or roadblocks in sales, like restaurant closures and scaled-back school lunch programs.

Vincent Smith is a faculty member at the Montana State University Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics. He said normally, the U.S. spends about $16 billion on farm programs including subsidies, and that 2020 will set a 50-year record, with American farms receiving about $53 billion in subsidies.

"It’s a huge amount," Smith said.

He said that even though farm subsidies aren’t likely to get that high in 2021, they are expected to be nearly double that of an average year. 

Smith also explained that because the government pays them out on a per acre basis and not a system based on need for the funds, large commercially-successful operations are likely to get an outsized portion.

"Relatively little is going to what is often thought of as 'the family farm,'" Smith said.