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Self-Reliance? Don’t Ask These Subsidized SD Senate Farmers

Last updated on 2011.03.12

Friday I listed members of the South Dakota House who receive federal farm subsidies. My list includes only those farmers listed by name and perhaps misses subsidies to various corporations of which legislators may be a part.

Now here's the list of South Dakota Senators I can find on the Environmental Working Group Farm Subsidy Database as recipients of farm subsidies from 1995 to 2009:

  • Sen. Jason Frerichs (D-1/Wilmot): $20,979
  • Sen. Art Fryslie (R-6/Willow Lake): $242,647
  • Sen. Cooper Garnos (R-21/Presho): $142,606
  • Sen. Jim Hundstad (D-3/Bath): $455,348
  • Sen. Ryan Maher (R-28/Isabel): $950
  • Sen. Eldon Nygaard (R-17/Vermillion): $77,675
  • Sen. J.E. "Jim" Putnam (R-19/Armour): $641
  • Sen. Larry Rhoden (R-29/Union Center): $38,672
  • Sen. Larry Tidemann (R-7/Brookings): $0... but his wife Gail Dobbs Tidemann has received conservation subsidies of $21,223
  • Sen. Mike Vehle (R-20/Mitchell): $106,023

Again it is worth noting that if you added up the subsidies earned by all of the above current Senators and the farm-subsidized reps I listed Friday, you get a half-million more in taxpayer support than the $3.06 million their former colleague Congresswoman Kristi Noem's family alone has received over the same period.

As a state, South Dakota drew $621 million in farm subsidies in 2009. That's 1.62% of our gross state product. Had Uncle Sam cancelled farm subsidies in 2009, our state economy would have grown only 0.5% instead of 2.2%.

Now here's an interesting number: take our 2009 farm subsidy haul, $621 million, and divide that by the number of farms, 31,500. That comes out to $19,729 for each farm in South Dakota. Another way to look at that number: Uncle Sam doled out enough in farm subsidies to South Dakota in 2009 to hire a farm hand to put in 40 hours a week for 50 weeks at $9.86 an hour, better than minimum wage.

Compared to all states, South Dakota enjoyed the second-highest subsidy-per-farm payout, behind only North Dakota, which hauled in $27,571 per farm. Funny, I thought, that a state as Republican as South Dakota is so remarkably dependent on farm subsidies... which got me wondering how that works out nationally. Spreadsheet time! Here's the full state-by-state farm subsidy chart, with a comparison of total subsidies in 2009, subsidies per farm in 2009, and the margin by which each states voters have leaned Republican in the last five Presidential elections:

State 2009 Subsidies 2009 farms subsidy/farm rank GOP margin
North Dakota $882,267,751 32,000 $27,570.87 1 16.484
South Dakota $621,463,573 31,500 $19,729.00 2 11.92
Nebraska $768,489,438 47,200 $16,281.56 3 22.606
Kansas $912,592,688 65,500 $13,932.71 4 16.892
Iowa $1,201,339,706 92,600 $12,973.43 5 -5.11
Montana $380,353,410 29,800 $12,763.54 6 9.668
Illinois $953,838,054 75,800 $12,583.62 7 -15.844
Minnesota $913,965,924 81,000 $11,283.53 8 -8.86
Arkansas $502,444,740 49,100 $10,233.09 9 0.08
Louisiana $301,132,413 30,000 $10,037.75 10 4.824
Mississippi $401,962,617 42,300 $9,502.66 11 12.766
Colorado $315,504,661 36,200 $8,715.60 12 -0.238
Georgia $405,215,009 47,600 $8,512.92 13 6.814
Indiana $506,796,986 61,500 $8,240.60 14 9.398
California $666,519,368 81,500 $8,178.15 15 -14.414
Delaware $19,547,959 2,480 $7,882.24 16 -13.814
Arizona $117,022,603 15,500 $7,549.85 17 4.99
Idaho $192,061,567 25,500 $7,531.83 18 27.018
North Carolina $366,258,481 52,400 $6,989.67 19 6.086
Wisconsin $537,130,351 78,000 $6,886.29 20 -5.838
Washington $259,699,645 39,500 $6,574.67 21 -10.774
Texas $1,533,564,784 247,500 $6,196.22 22 12.872
Vermont $42,435,903 7,000 $6,062.27 23 -21.006
Ohio $440,480,156 74,900 $5,880.91 24 -1.432
Alaska $3,996,791 680 $5,877.63 25 20.946
Maryland $67,252,138 12,800 $5,254.07 26 -16.996
Missouri $561,092,894 108,000 $5,195.30 27 -1.156
Michigan $280,621,903 54,800 $5,120.84 28 -9.12
South Carolina $137,869,091 27,000 $5,106.26 29 11.23
New Mexico $94,926,987 20,500 $4,630.58 30 -6.056
New York $168,756,796 36,600 $4,610.84 31 -22.966
Nevada $12,716,419 3,080 $4,128.71 32 2.004
Wyoming $44,143,982 11,000 $4,013.09 33 26.132
Oklahoma $327,849,362 86,500 $3,790.17 34 20.152
Alabama $178,272,740 48,500 $3,675.73 35 15.162
Oregon $126,841,172 38,600 $3,286.04 36 -7.798
Maine $24,974,702 8,100 $3,083.30 37 -12.136
Kentucky $261,071,709 85,500 $3,053.47 38 9.408
Tennessee $238,532,532 78,700 $3,030.91 39 5.228
Pennsylvania $191,168,776 63,200 $3,024.82 40 -7.04
Florida $142,698,849 47,500 $3,004.19 41 -0.32
Utah $46,707,424 16,600 $2,813.70 42 30.768
Connecticut $13,195,841 4,900 $2,693.03 43 -14.954
Virginia $116,645,437 47,000 $2,481.82 44 3.252
Rhode Island $2,648,727 1,220 $2,171.09 45 -25.708
New Hampshire $8,377,419 4,150 $2,018.66 46 -4.176
Hawaii $12,009,073 7,500 $1,601.21 47 -21.806
Massachusetts $12,172,905 7,700 $1,580.90 48 -26.032
New Jersey $15,783,647 10,300 $1,532.39 49 -11.656
West Virginia $16,906,813 23,200 $728.74 50 0.902
USA $16,349,321,916 2,200,010 $7,431.48 -2.104

Notice that of the ten states drawing the largest subsidies per farm, only three lean Democrat. of the ten states drawing the smallest subsidies per farm, only three lean Republican. Run all the numbers, and you find a positive correlation of 0.305 between amount of farm subsidies per farm and leaning toward the GOP.

Ah, so that explains Kristi Noem.


  1. starbright57 2011.03.06

    You are not including the expenses. I don't know how much seed costs, but if you buy it at $2.89 a bushel and then after planting, fertilizing and spraying you only get $3.11 a bushel, the subsidies are paid to make up the difference. The little farmer making the $20,000/$30,000 a year needs that to keep farming. Reagan tried to get rid of the farm program at 10 per cent a year for 10 years. SD lost a lot of farms during his tenure. Planting fence post to fence post does not work. The markets are flooded with cheap commodities and no one makes any money. Then if there is a can a farmer take that loss and still farm next year..he can’t. Everyone who eats benefits from farm subsidies. Otherwise, Cargill and ADM will own the farms and set food prices. In the US we pay on about 12 per cent of our disposable income on food. In Europe some countries pay as much as 45 per cent and more. US citizens can then buy boats, new homes, new furniture, etc. The farm subsidies should be overhauled so people like Noem don't take out $3 million. Little farmers need it. The $250,000 cap which she voted against would have been a good start.
    Could you please revise your statement to include expenses in the subsidies paid to farmers?

  2. Michael Black 2011.03.06

    Farm subsidies seem on the surface to be a very bad thing. Anyone who has accepted payments from the government has their name listed on websites. Does this alone make them evil?

    The United States has pursued a policy of cheap food for decades. Only recently have prices for agricultural commodities gone beyond historical norms. Higher food prices are at the center of current unrest in many developing countries. Those demonstrations have caused spikes in oil prices that may derail the shaky recovery in the world economy.

    Members of the European Union subsidize their farms too. It's not just a US thing.

    Americans that accept government payments while standing on their soapboxes screaming about the waste in spending are all hypocrites to a certain degree. That list includes far more than just farmers.

    How many citizens directly benefit from government programs?

    The unemployed, the elderly, education, the water we drink, the water we flush, hunters, fishermen, the poor, the sick, our roads...I could go on forever.

    Is the farmer who accepts a direct payment from the government program that he legally qualifies for morally or ethically wrong for doing so? Is the farmer any more guilty than the college student? Or the unemployed? Or the sick? Or the elderly?

  3. Curtis Price 2011.03.06

    "Is the farmer who accepts a direct payment from the government program that he legally qualifies for morally or ethically wrong for doing so?"

    No -- and though I agree there's lots of hypocrisy out there but this is extreme because, after all, these are direct payments in the form of a cashed check from the Feds.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.03.06

    I don't offer any stats on what the farmers spend their subsidies on. Expense, wages, frilly dresses... it doesn't matter. The plain fact is that the subsidies average out to a nearly $20K handout for every farm in the state. If I got $20K each year, I could produce all sorts of cheap food in my garden (and build a boffo fence to keep those darn raccoons out). The point here is that any South Dakotan preaching self-reliance and rugged individualism is missing a very important point about South Dakota's dependence on government assistance.

    Also worth noting: ten states (including us) got 56% of the subsidies in 2009. 10% of South Dakota's farmers collect 61% of the subsidies. 26% of South Dakota's farmers get none. So a small portion of "farmers" (like the Noems) enhance their wealth with much more than $20K in farm welfare each year.

  5. Wollmann 2011.03.06

    starbright57, I think farmers would be very happy to pay 2.89 a bushel for seed corn. The last I heard, Roundup Ready corn seed was around $200.00 per bag. Maybe 2 bushels in a bag if even that.

  6. Michael Black 2011.03.06

    I'm sorry Cory. You need to make sure EVERYONE uses their full name...EVERYTIME.

  7. snapper 2011.03.06

    Noem farms the system. She's a crook and it's legal. She is the one putting small farmers out of business.

    "The farm subsidies should be overhauled so people like Noem don’t take out $3 million. Little farmers need it. The $250,000 cap which she voted against would have been a good start."

    This would like to no more about her not supporting the above limits.

  8. snapper 2011.03.06

    Well maybe she's not a crook but she's morally bankrupt.

  9. mary 2011.03.10

    Keep in mind, every farm does not get a subsidy and 10% of the farms get 56% of the money. It is the large corperations that get the most money. And Noem's farm is a "corperation" even though it is all family. the small farmers who might need this to stay afloat get very little, e.g. often about $1,000 a year.

  10. mary 2011.03.10

    also the produce that is subsidized tends to be the least nutritionally sound. These subsidies are why the least expensive food is also the worst for you.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.03.10

    Mary J., you're absolutely right about that. Farm subsidies as structured now go to the wrong people and the wrong food. Food subsidies should support producers who need help, food that makes us healthier, and communities with lots of small farmers rather than a sparse oligiopoly of corporate producers.

  12. tom green 2011.03.11

    why didn't you list Senator Jim Hunstad's totals: MORE THAN $455,000!!
    (he's from the Aberdeen/Bath area)
    or Rep. Paul Dennert's $140,000? (btw. if you add up all the dennerts in the 57433 zip code you get some pretty big chunks of change)

    [CAH: Did I miss Hundstadt? Nertz! I'll look those numbers up! I did get Dennert on my House subsidies post.]

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