Myth – Rice growers are farming in the drought to get crop subsidies

By Tim Johnson

Just the other day as I drove through Salinas, I flipped on the local news radio station for the San Francisco Bay Area. Drought was the topic and farmers use of water the story. I turned up the volume.

As the reporter – with certainty in his voice and backed up with interviews – stated that cotton and rice farmers in California were growing a crop in the drought because of farm subsidies, I nearly swerved off the road.

I can assure you of two things during this prolonged drought. First, rice farmers are not getting subsidies. The 2012 Farm Bill eliminated direct payments.

Second, the crop insurance–based programs that replaced subsidies are only triggered if prices drop well below the cost of production. Today’s prices are nowhere near those levels. Prevented planting insurance will be triggered for some who have lost water and cannot plant. The payment will about cover the land and other fixed costs. In both cases, farmers pay directly out of pocket for increased crop insurance to cover the risks above a minimal level.

It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that stories such as this continue to be widely reported. They are a throwback to the arguments we heard in the farm bill that ‘Big Ag’ shouldn’t be supported by the government. Our 2,500 family farms that are the backbone of our rural communities in the Sacramento Valley hardly qualify. For that matter, all American farmers rightly take issue with this unfair characterization.

Stories like this are also a continued effort to divide a state facing a serious water shortage into good and bad users of water. Rarely do you hear positive stories about water used to grow food and provide habitat on our working lands.

Don’t fall for stories like this. If it sounds unreal – it usually is. If you have a question, ask a farmer. They would be pleased to provide you an answer.

Tim Johnson, CRC President & CEO