Senators benefit from farm subsidies

For some lawmakers, the current U.S. Senate debate on farm subsidies strikes close to home.

At least six senators have received government agriculture handouts in recent years.

Although some pocket a relative pittance, the total amount of taxpayer money that these legislators have received over the past decade is more than $700,000. Add in close family members and the amount more than doubles.

As the proposed farm bill stands now, these senators would likely still be eligible for their benefit checks.

Here’s a look at what they have gotten in the past, according to financial disclosure forms and a U.S. Department of Agriculture database:

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

One of the newest senators, Tester also is the top recipient of subsidies, collected largely before he was elected last November.

He and his wife, Sharla, have farmed land in Big Sandy Springs that has been in his family for nearly 100 years. The couple has received about $304,000 in federal farm aid since 1995.

The subsidies were for oats, wheat, barley, dry peas and disasters.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa

A member of the Senate’s agriculture committee, Grassley has received about $283,000 in government subsidies for his family farm in Butler County between 1995 and 2005.

Most were corn, soybean and disaster-assistance subsidies. Grassley’s son, Robin, who runs the farm day-to-day, received nearly $654,000 during the same time.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.

Since 1995, Brownback received about $50,000 in sorghum, wheat and conservation subsidies for his farm in Linn County.

Brownback’s father and brother have received a total of $605,000 over the same time.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore.

With his wife, Sharon, Smith has collected about $47,000 in wheat subsidies since 1995 for their Smith Frozen Foods operation in Umatilla County.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.

The No. 2 Republican on the Senate agriculture committee, Lugar and his wife, Charlene, received about $18,000 in corn, soybean and wheat subsidies for his share of Lugar Stock Farm in Marion County since 1995.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.

Listed on the Agriculture Department database using her maiden name, Blanche Lambert, the senator collected about $11,000 in rice, wheat, sorghum, corn and wetlands subsidies for her portion of a Phillips County farm since 1995.

She is also a member of the Senate agriculture panel.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

Another top Democrat on that committee, Baucus does not appear on the Agriculture database as having personally received subsidies. But close family members have collected more than $230,000 since 1995, according to the records.

(E-mail Lisa Hoffman at hoffmanl(at)


  1. lindaj

    Jon Tester is recently elected and his family has actually farmed the land, as have some of the others. As the writer says, it’s not wrong to use existing law for one’s own benefit. If Tester hadn’t been elected, you wouldn’t have cared.
    Remember Farm Aid? A LOT of farmers lost their land due to rising interest rates and bad growing conditions. That’s about when the big corporate farming companies bought up the land.
    Farming is a tricky business at best, and small farmers earn amounts of money well below average. There should be a way to keep these guys in business, just not to subsidize the big guys. But who’s to say who is big, who is small?
    Perhaps recipients should be barred from the Ag Committees but then you’d have know-nothings on it. Agriculture aid was arranged to even out income so bad years wouldn’t put people out of business. It needs to be rethought and reallocated, but the aid and the land banking were needed “at the time” and also from time to time.

  2. raven

    I agree with lindaj. I own a farm in Tennessee that’s been in our family since 1840. I don’t farm it myself but have tenant farmers. This year I made $19,000. That’s 1/4 of the total profit. The tenant farmers consist of three families: grandparents who used to farm, their son and his son and daughter and grandchildren. I have a full time job, but all these other people have to live on the proceeds of farming. They have a small amount of land themselves and nothing near what I have (800 acres). We grew corn this year. There was no rain. I have to pay for crop insurance and taxes and a farm management company out of whatever I get. I could make more money selling the land and putting the proceeds in the bank at less than 5%. I don’t want to do that, since it has sentimental value and because I would put my tenant farmers out of work. We get government subsidies, but believe me, you can’t live on them. When you add up the money over periods of years, it sounds like a lot. If you added up your own salary over a period of years, it would sound like a lot too. But you probably don’t feel that you are rolling in wealth.

    Listen, we have very cheap food in this country. Do we want to import more from China and run the risk of getting poisoned? There are some things you shouldn’t wish for. Wrecking farmers is one of them. While there are some who perhaps reap a windfall that they don’t need, maybe we should focus on them and not the farmers who have no control over the weather and many other factors that have to be predicted before you start planting. If we could read the future, it would be easy to know what to plant. But we can’t and because of that, Franklin Roosevelt set out to help the farmers of this country with subsidies when things go badly. I think he did the right thing. Let’s not destroy another form of support for the little guy in this country.