Farmers in Ohio were the seventh-highest paid by state overall, receiving more than $471 million in subsidies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Illinois farmers received the most funding, more than $1.1 billion, with Iowa and Minnesota growers following closely behind, according to a data analysis by the AP.
Under the federal Market Facilitation Program, growers were allowed to apply for funding by commodity. Each commodity was separated into three groups: row crops (including soybeans, corn, wheat, etc.), dairy and pork, and fresh sweet cherries and shelled almonds.
Soybeans were the crop most affected by the retaliatory tariffs, nationally and in Ohio. Soybean farmers in the Buckeye State received $454 million.
The USDA set caps at $125,000 per commodity with the understanding that no individual could receive a total of more than $375,000 in subsidies.
However, there were 118 farming businesses in Ohio that received payments above the $125,000 cap per commodity.
Bryant Agricultural Enterprises, a family-owned and operated farming business in Washington Court House, received $641,896 in government subsidies — the largest payout for any farm in Ohio.
The Fayette County farm is an eight-member family partnership, and under the government's rules, each "actively engaged" partner can receive up to $375,000. That means that Bryant Agricultural Enterprises was actually eligible for up to $3 million in subsidies, according to USDA rules.
Kasey Bamberger, a partner in the farm, stressed that while the aid they received was a large sum, it still does not reflect all of the production losses they suffered under the Chinese tariffs. She declined to disclose the family's total production losses or the amount of acreage they farm.
"We're appreciative of the subsidies we've received, but I don't think it was a save-all," Bamberger told The Dispatch by phone on Monday. "I think that the calculation was fair, but our goal isn't to farm for subsidies; we want to be able to have a good price point to sell our products."
A total of 1,883 individual farmers in Ohio received less than $200 in subsidies, according to a Dispatch analysis of data provided by the AP. They represent nearly 6 percent of the state's 31,596 farmers and farm businesses.
USDA spokesman Peter Wood explained that the program never was intended to balance all farmers' levels of production.
"It was purely meant to compensate farmers for the losses they suffered as it directly relates to the market share and inability to sell commodities to China because of the tariffs," he said.
Critics of the program, including U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who has long fought for subsidy limits, say it's the latest example of how loopholes in federal farm subsidy programs allow large farms to collect far more than the supposed caps on that aid.
Grassley said some of the nation's largest farms are receiving huge subsidies "through underhanded legal tricks."
"They're getting richer off the backs of taxpayers while young and beginning farmers are priced out of the profession. This needs to end," he said. "The Department of Agriculture needs to reevaluate its rules for awarding federal funds and conduct more thorough oversight of where it's funneling taxpayer dollars."
USDA officials defended the program, saying they think its rules are being followed and that the department has procedures in place to audit recipients.
At Peterson Farms in Loretto, Ky., eight members of the family partnership collected a total $863,560 for crops they grow on more than 15,000 acres in seven counties, including wheat and corn used at the nearby Maker's Mark bourbon distillery.
Co-owner Bernard Peterson said it didn't make up for all their losses at a time when it was already hard to be profitable. The $1.65-per-bushel aid payments for soybeans fell well short of losses he estimated at $2 to $2.50 per bushel, factoring in the loss of the Chinese market that took years to develop.
"It's a big number, but there are a big number of people directly depending on the success of our operation in the community," he said. Peterson said the farms support about 30 families year-round, and more at harvest time. "It's a lot more than just the owners of the company."
The numerous ways around the $125,000 caps mean that millions of subsidy dollars flow to "city slickers who are stretching the limits of the law," said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, which has long tracked federal farm subsidy programs.
The Washington-based group has criticized the programs as biased toward big producers who, it says, promote environmentally damaging farming practices. Urban dwellers might play only a small role in an operation without ever setting foot on the farm because of the loose definitions for who qualifies, Faber said.
More trade aid is on the way. The Trump administration in May announced a new $16 billion package for Round 2 for 2019. But most details of how the new edition will be structured have yet to be released.
The USDA says it has spent about $8.6 billion so far out of the $12 billion authorized. But Congress recently eased a rule that said a producer's average adjusted gross income could not exceed $900,000. That change will require the agency to reopen Round 1 to producers with higher incomes, as long as 75 percent or more of their income is derived from agriculture. And that will push spending closer to the $12 billion.
(c)2019 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.