Farm Subsidies Are Harm Subsidies

By Grewell, J. Bishop | The American Enterprise, October-November 2003 | Go to article overview

Farm Subsidies Are Harm Subsidies

Grewell, J. Bishop, The American Enterprise

Agriculture is one of the most interfered-with industries on earth. Across the world, government subsidies wreak havoc with farm economies. Though we haven't made much progress in eliminating the payments, this concept is increasingly understood by Americans. What's less appreciated is that subsidies also cause environmental problems. By encouraging the cultivation of unneeded marginal land, overuse of scarce environmental resources, and increased use of chemicals, farm subsidies harm the ecosystem as well as consumers and even farmers.

Thanks to U.S. price supports, agricultural economist Del Gardner notes, "land has been cultivated ... that would have remained in rangeland and forests, especially in the southern region and in the semi-arid and arid regions of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains." "Aided by government farm programs," writes John Hosemann, retired chief economist of the American Farm Bureau, "farmers clearcut and drained large tracts of forestland, particularly in the Mississippi River delta region but also in the mid-Atlantic states." In the Florida Everglades, over half a million acres of swamplands have been converted to sugar fields to take advantage of government subsidies.

Subsidies also lead to increased use of chemical inputs. In a study of six farming states, Jonathan Tolman found that eliminating subsidies would reduce fertilizer use by 29 percent. In the North Carolina coastal plain, elimination of subsidies could reduce water pollution from nitrogen leaching by 46 percent, according to researchers Kathleen Painter and Douglas Young.

Even when subsidies are tailored for supposed environmental benefits, they often end up doing more ecological harm than good. Consider two of the main "Green" endeavors paid for by the U.S. government--ethanol production and the Conservation Reserve Program. Both demonstrate how the unintended consequences of market manipulations can do damage despite the best of intentions.


One of the most egregious agricultural subsidies in the U.S. today underwrites the production of ethanol--a gasoline substitute made from corn. While purporting to help the environment, it actually has the opposite effect.

The ethanol program provides a bonanza for corn-producing states such as Iowa and South Dakota. Powerful senators and Iowa's importance to Presidential nominations have garnered these regions a subsidy equivalent to 54 cents per gallon of ethanol produced. The vast majority of the money goes to one agribusiness: Archer Daniels Midland, which produces 60 percent of the nation's ethanol and receives in excess of $400 million per year from the federal treasury in doing so.

One might overlook these costs if ethanol actually did what its proponents claim (reducing air pollution while providing domestically produced energy). But ethanol is no boon. Cornell researchers David and Marcia Pimentel report that ethanol is actually an environmental nuisance when all aspects of its production are taken into account: "Ethanol produced from corn causes environmental degradation from increased soil erosion and aquifer mining, from soil, water, and air pollution, and from increased emissions of global-warming gases." But according to the General Accounting Office, "little change in air quality or global environmental quality" would rest, It if ethanol subsidies were ended.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board made similar claims after conducting studies on a possible exemption for California from 1990 Clean Air Act requirements that oxygenates be added to gasoline in regions that failed to meet the federal air quality standards for smog. (Ethanol had become the only oxygenate choice after groundwater was polluted from use of its lone competitor, MTBE. But other researchers found that ethanol actually increases the evaporation rate of gasoline, which leads to pollutants that increase smog. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Farm Subsidies Are Harm Subsidies


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.