From: Jim Wasserman, The Sacramento Bee
Published August 4, 2005 12:00 AM

Environmental Group Accuses California Farms of 'Double Dipping' Subsidies

A national environmental group critical of farm subsidies reported Tuesday that more than 1,200 Central Valley farms received federally subsidized water to grow subsidized crops in 2002.

The Environmental Working Group called the practice "double dipping" that cost taxpayers $243.8 million.

The group singled out cotton and rice growers in its analysis. It said the two crops used more than 25 percent of the federally subsidized water available from the Central Valley Project in 2002 and accounted for 92 percent of the crop subsidies received that year by CVP farms.

Overall, 1,228 Central Valley farms received double subsidies in 2002, collecting $121.5 million in water subsidies and $122.3 million in crop subsidies, according to the report.

The average double subsidy totaled almost $200,000 per farm, the EWG said. The group maintains that double subsidies are inappropriate "when the federal deficit has reached historic levels and California water is increasingly scarce."

U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, a longtime critic of subsidized federal water for large California farms, likened the subsidies to welfare. "It doesn't make any economic sense, and it encourages waste when the rest of us are conserving water," he said in a statement.

Northern California rice growers produce 19 percent of the rice grown in the United States on 507,000 acres, mostly in Colusa, Sutter, Butte, Glenn and Yuba counties. The crop was valued at $372 million in 2003.

Colusa County rice grower Don Bransford said eliminating rice and water subsidies would damage the rural economy.

"These programs have a long history, and they were established for a reason," he said.

Bransford, who grows 600 acres of rice, some irrigated with CVP water, said the Japanese government subsidizes rice production more heavily than the U.S. government.

Central Valley farmers grow 10 percent of the nation's cotton on 694,000 acres, primarily in Fresno, Kings, Kern, Merced and Tulare counties. The 2003 crop was valued at $760 million.

Greg Palla, vice president of the San Joaquin Valley Quality Cotton Growers Association, also defended government subsidies, saying they're used to "employ people, provide jobs and buy resources, the majority of which are produced in this country.

"Any of the subsidies that accrue to farmers, no matter what the commodity or resource, ultimately benefit all of the citizens of this country," Palla said.

Bill Walker, vice president of the EWG's West Coast office, said the group aims to spotlight subsidies in advance of the nation's 2007 farm bill. The bill will set farm subsidy levels for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

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