On November 6, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) will offer to farmers and other taxpayers the first-ever publicly available, searchable Internet database of government farm subsidy payment records.

The database will be offered free of charge and will be searchable by name, zip code, county or municipality. It will detail how, under the current farm programs that Congress is considering expanding, taxpayer funds intended to help family farmers were instead awarded to the largest agribusinesses and commodity growers.

Two-thirds of the nation’s farmers – often residing in big agricultural states in which livestock or non-commodity crops are raised – were bypassed entirely. For 80% of those eligible for the funds, the average annual subsidy check was roughly $1,000. Nationwide, two-thirds of the funds went to just 10% of all eligible recipients, while the bulk of all commodity program money went to approximately eight Great Plains and Deep South states.

Big government checks have enabled big producers to buy neighbors’ farms or out-compete them in the farmland rental markets. This has helped fuel the increased concentration in agriculture long decried by a group of Senators who are now advocating an expansion of these very same programs.

The Bush Administration and newspaper editorial pages of every ideological leaning have criticized the programs. A House bill passed in October would expand the programs, locking in the inter- and intrastate inequities for another 10 years.

EWG assembled the database through multiple Freedom of Information Act requests to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It includes 70 million records of farm subsidy checks sent from 1996-2000.

The data have long been available – technically speaking – but never through the World Wide Web. Obtaining the information was made possible by prior news media organizations’ efforts to acquire the data for news reporting purposes.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a not-for-profit environmental research organization. You can contact them at www.ewg.org.