Tuesday, July 3, 2012

BELIEVE IT OR NOT: Arizona Leads Nation In Federal Direct Payments To Fallow (Faux?) Farmers

It does not seem possible.  But, according to a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office ("GAO"), Arizona "farms" received more direct payments in 2011 for fallow farms than any other state in the nation.  A lot more.  Arizona fallow farmers pocketed $750,531 last year, as much as their fellow fallow farmers in California and Texas COMBINED!

The GAO report bluntly criticizes the program (the title of the report is "Direct Payments Should Be Reconsidered"), and reviews payments between 2002 and 2011.  One of the key findings centers on payments to the fallow farms.  These are farms that reported ALL of its acreage as fallow for five consecutive years (in this case, from 2007-11).

Arizona has 85 farms - of varying sizes - that meet the fallow (faux?) farm definition.  They are predominantly in central (Maricopa and Pinal counties) and southeastern (Cochise, Graham, Greenlee) Arizona.  (See, page 14 of report.) As the GAO report points out, many of the fallow farms are in areas where land use has changed significantly over recent time, and that the USDA ("U.S. Department of Agriculture") should be better able to ferret out fallow farmers in these areas; central Arizona certainly fits that description.

The 85 farms in Arizona are fewer than the numbers located in several other states.  However, those Arizona fallow farmers received $750,531 in 2011, significantly more than those in Texas ($449,438).  This suggests that the possibly-undeserving recipients of direct payments in Arizona are receiving larger amounts than others around the country.

Faux farms received attention in Arizona in years past because of favorable property tax assessments that were offered to farmland;  whether there is overlap between landowners in those cases and those receiving federal direct payments is not - yet - clear.

The GAO report includes a response from the USDA.  The direct payments program(s) are slated to(again) expire this September and the agency notes that the Obama Administration's proposed budget for 2013 has already recommended that the direct payments be terminated (not re-authorized).  (Report, pages 47-48)

Arizona's Politics is seeking more information and responses from the GAO, the USDA and local sources.  (If you have any reactions or information that may be helpful in advancing this story, please e-mail or call me.)

We welcome your comments about this post. Or, if you have something unrelated on your mind, please e-mail to info-at-arizonaspolitics-dot-com or call 602-799-7025. Thanks.

No comments: