INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Agriculture is big business in the state of Indiana. And critical to that success are farm subsidies, or payments to farmers under a number of programs administered by the United State Department of Agriculture.
But, after months of researching a database put together by the Environmental Working Group, 24-Hour News 8 has learned some people and programs getting these farm subsidies are anything but farms or farmers.
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Take Noblesville Airport, for example. After scouring the EWG database, we discovered this airport has received close to $38,000 between 1995 and 2009. We asked the owner, Don Roberts, to explain how his airport earns a farm payment.
"You know what, I'm not sure. I can't explain it," Roberts said.
Not only could he not explain it, but he admitted the government didn't owe him the money and he didn't know how the $38,000 was used.
24-Hour News 8's Debby Knox found more questionable recipients, including a church in Tipton County, a cemetery in Boone County, two children's camps in Brown County and a hardware store in Madison County.
Those recipients together have received more than $56,000 between 1995 and 2009. And there are many more.
The history of these properties could partly explain the payments. Most, if not all, of the parcels we questioned were land that was once classified as agricultural. That's all it takes to qualify for direct payments from the USDA.
And to add insult to injury, corn farmers get subsidies even though the price of a bushel of corn has nearly tripled over the past five years - much of that due to federal biofuels policy, which diverts 40 percent of corn produced from food and feed to fuel.
We took our concerns to an Indiana congressman who is a corn farmer himself. Congressman Marlin Stutzman of Indiana's 3rd District has received $179,000 over a 14-year period, a payment he acknowledges is not crucial for his farm's survival.
"It's a very small fraction of the amount of money we actually (get) … . It's a little over 1 percent," he said.
He believes the next farm bill, which is being written now, should reconsider subsidies for corn and tighten the rules that determine who receives direct payments for land.
"I think - and this is what I've been talking about with other folks in Congress - that the farm subsidy needs to go away because the ag economy has changed," Stutzman said. "The ag subsidy only manipulates the market. We end up paying higher seed costs, we end up paying higher equipment costs, because everybody knows the farmer is getting a subsidy, so it drives the market. It drives the prices up."
Consider these facts:
- $246.7 billion has been paid out by American taxpayers to farms and farmers from 1995-2009.
- $8.72 billion has come to Indiana.
- Corn is subsidized the most, to the tune of $5.5 billion dollars. That's nearly five times more than the next crop, soybeans.
- Jasper County gets the most money in farm subsidies. Marion County ranks 89th, Hamilton County 61st, Boone County is 6th.
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