The US spent $277 billion last year on farm subsidies of all stripes; the amount includes $37 billion for conservation payments, most of which goes to large agribusiness.
The EU is learning about the costs of farm subsidies; it’s time we did, too. The article at the link has a lot of environmental items in it; I’ll generally deal with the fiscal items.
The European Union plans to spend about €60 billion, or about 40% of the entire EU budget, on agriculture this year alone. It’s a lot of money for an economic sector that generates less than 2% of the bloc’s gross domestic product and employs less than 6% of its workforce.
Individual (small) farmers can get €10,000 ($13,500), or more, from the EU’s spending. However,
[t]he main beneficiaries of this policy, according to the authors of the journal Der Kritischer Agrarbericht (Critical Agricultural Report), are “large-scale, streamlined farming operations, which receive annual payments of up to €120,000 ($162,000) per employee.”
(That’s a helluva salary, were the money actually going to the employees.)
In Germany, 1.9% of businesses collect about 30% of payments, and they are not always farms. Ice hockey clubs, aristocratic families and companies like candy maker Haribo and sugar producers Südzucker and Nordzucker also benefit from EU agricultural subsidies. In 2009, defense contractor Rheinmetall also received a hefty sum of cash—for planting trees in a former tank training area.
While the EU is trying to tie continuance of these subsidies to environmental questions (a forced set-aside of 7% of farmland, for instance, since the claim is that plowing that land releases massive amounts of CO2), this won’t solve the underlying problems.
Farm subsidies of such magnitude (indeed, of any size, as is the case with all subsidies) drive up the cost of food for the consumer. Taxpayers pay those subsidies, those wealth transfers, and so taxpayers are paying twice for those artificially inflated prices—once with the subsidy, and again when they buy the food being subsidized. Further, those inflated prices drive the demand for food stamps.