NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Subsidizing Environmental Run-Off

October 6, 1995

Agricultural subsidies are promoting intensive use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers which are polluting America's lakes, rivers and streams.

In order to lower the cost of farm subsidies, the federal government restricts the amount of acreage farmers can plant. So to maximize profits, farmers pile on the chemicals to increase per-acre yields so as to benefit from higher-than-market price supports. When the chemical residues run off the lands, pollution results.

  • Farms are a principal cause of pollution in bodies of water classified as impaired, causing 75% of pollution in such rivers and streams; 56% in lakes; and 43% in estuaries and coastal waters.
  • Rural residents are, themselves, often the victims due to polluted wells.
  • U.S. farms use an average of 129 pounds of fertilizer per acre, compared to 46 pounds in 1960.
  • The 2.31 pounds of pesticides used per acre today is almost double that used in 1960.
  • Research indicates that ending farm programs would reduce nitrogen leaching due to fertilizer use by half.

Farm chemicals are expensive and farmers don't like to invest in them unless they reap greater yields and profits - a situation exacerbated by the government's subsidy and control programs. Luckily the news isn't all bad. Fewer than half the lakes, estuaries, streams and coastal waters in the U.S. are believed to be polluted - though that's based on still incomplete surveys.

Source: Charles Oliver, "Paying U.S. Farmers to Pollute," Investor's Business Daily, October 6, 1995.


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