It is not news that the number of farmers in the United States has been dwindling, with the consolidation of small family farms into highly industrialized mega businesses, as well as the exodus from rural America into the cities. It also may not surprise readers of this blog that the average age of the American farmer is currently 58 years old and increasing. The last USDA agriculture census indicated there are three times as many farmers over the age of 65 as farmers under the age of 35, while some more recent estimates put the ratio as high as 6 to 1. As these farmers begin to retire, leaders in the agriculture sector have expressed concern about the future of food and farming in America.
When we talk about the farm bill, often commodities, insurance, and nutrition programs take center stage. These programs are politically contentious and together they comprise over 93 percent of spending in the 2014 Farm Bill, so it makes sense that they are widely covered. However, the lack of attention to other titles can allow misuse to go unnoticed. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a part of the farm bill’s conservation title, is a perfect example of how well-intentioned programs can be subverted by powerful agriculture companies in the absence of public pressure.