The majority of federal farm subsidies are being paid to the nation’s largest and most profitable subsidized crop producers, a farm advocacy group recently discovered, a trend reflected in western Montana.
Between 1996 and 2000 Congress paid nearly $2 million to hundreds of Ravalli County farmers in the form of agricultural subsidies, a large chunk of it to the valley’s wealthiest farmers. The Freedom to Farm bill, also known by its critics as “Freedom to Fail,” has propped up agriculture in Ravalli County since it was passed in 1996.
One organization pushing for change in the farm subsidy bill, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), has posted the names of every farm subsidy recipient in the United States, state by state, and county by county.
Bitterrooters may be surprised to learn that there are 305 eligible farmers in their increasingly suburban county. And they may be even more surprised to learn that one local recipient who has raked in some of the largest ag subsidies is none other than Ravalli County’s native son and self-made man, Harold Mildenberger.
Harold Mildenberger is owner of Mildenberger Motors, the successful GM dealership that made Mildenberger a wealthy man.
Aside from his fine crop of Cadillacs, Buicks and Chevys, Mildenberger also raises cattle on a large piece of land east of Hamilton, as well as farms land in Minnesota. Total monetary transfers from American taxpayers to this self-made millionaire car dealer totaled $127,439 for the five-year period of Freedom to Farm.
Contrast those payments with subsidies made to two other well-known Bitterroot Valley farmers, Glen Moeller, who farms his family’s land near Corvallis, and Luci Brieger, who, along with her husband Steve Elliott, owns Lifeline Produce, an organic farm and Victor institution. Subsidies to Moeller over the five-year program period totaled $130. Brieger didn’t fare as well, bringing in $27 over the same period.
It is this kind of skewed agricultural accounting that has EWG mad enough to compile ag subsidy information from around the country and post it on its Web site: www.ewg.org/farm.
According to the EWG, taxpayers have paid $90 billion in agricultural subsidies in the past five years. Two-thirds of that money was paid to 10 percent of the nation’s largest and most profitable subsidized crop producers who averaged nearly $40,000 annually.
The bottom 80 percent received an average of $1,089 annually. In fact, two-thirds of the nation’s farmers were deemed ineligible for the ag subsidy program.
Though Freedom to Farm doesn’t expire until next year, Congress is considering expanding the program for another five to 10 years, at a cost of $170 billion to taxpayers.