(Dec. 14) WASHINGTON, D.C. — It’s possible to wound government crop subsidy programs, but, like Dracula, they are almost impossible to kill.

Lawmakers debating the farm bill in the Senate tried and failed to kill programs covering corn, wheat, rice, soybeans, dairy, sugar and other commodities, even though critics pointed out that the majority — 60% — of U.S. farmers get no subsidies.

Most of the subsidies go to bigger producers in the Midwest, particularly to such states as Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois. Some Southern states also reap benefits.

FARM THE PROGRAM

According to critics, many in these states “farm the program” — meaning they produce in anticipation of payments. But supporters, including Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, say the payments are the backbone of farm and rural communities in states such as South Dakota.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chief author of the farm bill now being considered, strongly defends the system that mainly benefits farmers in his area of the country. In states with heavy fruit and vegetable production, the farm program participation rate is low.

MINORITY BENEFITS

Critics of the programs also talk about concentrated payments that go to a minority of producers. According to one study, in South Dakota 10% of the farmers got 55% of the payments.

According to figures gathered by the Environmental Working Group, an anti-pesticide, pro-organic organization, from 1996 through 2000 Iowa farmers got $6.7 billion in subsidies that went to 160,000 individuals. California, a much larger state, got only $2.2 billion for 31,000 recipients.

Under the Harkin bill, program payments would get bigger and would be augmented by new countercyclical price payments. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., tried to phase out the programs. He got only 30 votes out of 100 in the Senate.