The report shows that the largest farms with the highest sales receive the most money from government programs. For instance, the average payment in 2005 to producers of cash grains and cotton with sales of $1 million or more was $205,024.
Farms with 250,000 or more but less than $1 million in sales received average payments of $72,477, while farms with sales ranging between $10,000 and $249,999 got average payments of $17,900. As you can see from the figure below, government payments were exceptionally high in 2005 and direct payments accounted for less than half of total government program payments.
"While commodity program payments to farmers vary considerably from one year to the next, they continue to play an important role in agricultural policy, accounting for $6 billion to $16 billion annually between 1999 and 2009," says USDA in its study. Those numbers do not include conservation program payments.
As farms have gotten larger, the share of payments they receive has also grown. In 2009, family farms with more than $500,000 in annual sales accounted for 54 percent of production of the major program crops, up from 22 percent in 1991.
"By 2009, farms with more than $500,000 in constant dollar annual sales received 46 percent of all commodity-related payments, up from 20 percent in 1991," says USDA. Over the same period, the share of commodity payments paid to smaller commercial family farms shrank from 54 percent to 27 percent.
"Since operators of larger farms tend to have higher household income, the shift of commodity-related payments to larger farms has resulted in a shift of payments to higher income households," notes USDA. "For example, in 1991, half of commodity payments went to households with incomes over $54,940 in constant 2009 dollars (50th percentile) and a quarter of commodity payments went to farm households with incomes greater than $115,000 (75th percentile).
By 2009, the distribution of payments had shifted upward considerably, with half of commodity payments going to households with incomes over $89,540 and a quarter going to farm households with incomes greater than $209,200."