In early 2021, AFA decided to analyze US federal agriculture subsidies for 2020. It was no small task as it required tracking down nonpublic data from siloed USDA agency websites.
Not only was the data not uniform across agencies, sometimes the data simply weren’t there. For example, there was no published data showing how much federal spending went to each farm product type under the Market Facilitation Program (MFP), a program that makes direct payments to producers for market disruptions due to trade wars and tariffs.
So AFA submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for this information in May 2021. We asked for a breakdown of MFP spending for 2020. The data we received broke payments down by product type, but the total – $233 million – only amounted to 6% of the total amount for MFP payments published by the USDA – $3 billion.1
In response to our follow-up about the discrepancy, we received even less helpful data. The USDA gave us all-time state totals for specialty crops, non-specialty crops, and livestock as of December 21, 2020. After more follow-ups, they sent us data that more closely matched the published total for MFP.
But this breakdown wasn’t comprehensive. Though it listed total payments to individual specialty crops, it left non-specialty crops in a lump category. Since submitting a new FOIA request in August 2021 to fill in that gap, AFA has still not received the requested data as of January 2022.
This gap in data doesn’t affect our confidence in our current analysis of the breakdown, as we include an ‘unclear’ category among the others. But it does highlight the need for more transparency for MFP spending. AFA recommends more comprehensive and accessible reporting for MFP, especially given that a recent US Government Accountability Office report uncovered that MFP payouts are too often inconsistent with the program’s quality guidelines.2