U.S. Agricultural Subsidies

Are Oregonian’s familiar with U.S. farming subsidies? Where or to what types of farms do people believe these subsidies should go?

From May 26 – June 5, 2023, the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center conducted a statewide survey of Oregonians’ attitudes and behavior related to farming and agriculture including differences in feelings about small-scale farms and large-scale commercial or industrial farms. A description of the methodology used for the research is provided below. A Spanish version of the questionnaire was developed for the study in partnership with Rural Development Initiatives; the values and beliefs of Spanish-speaking Oregonians are included in the findings.  

This highlights memo summarizes key findings for questions related to agricultural subsidies.  Other memos have been prepared for the semantics and imagery Oregonians associate with farming and agriculture, the values and beliefs Oregonians have about farming/agriculture, and the personal connection Oregonians have with farming and agriculture.   

The question numbers in this document correspond with the accompanying annotated questionnaire and tabs. Due to rounding, the percentages reported below may not add up to 100% or compare exactly to the percentages for the same question in the annotated questionnaire or tabs. 

Included below for selected questions are noteworthy subgroup variations for BIPOC/white, age, urban/rural, education, gender, and households with and without children. The accompanying set of tabs notes subgroup variations for all the questions. 

OVBC surveys currently use aggregated data to analyze the opinions of BIPOC residents in comparison to the opinions of residents who identify as white and not another race. BIPOC residents are not a monolith; the grouping represents a wide diversity of races and ethnicities. The findings included in this memo should not be construed such that all people of color are believed to share the same opinions. Disaggregated race data will be provided when sample sizes permit reliability. 

For survey full question wording, all statistically significant subgroup findings, and respondent quotes, readers are encouraged to refer to the accompanying documents: (1) annotated questionnaire, (2) crosstabulations document, and (3) verbatim written responses spreadsheet. 

Oregon Values and Beliefs Center (OVBC): This research was completed as a community service by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center. OVBC is an independent and non-partisan organization and an Oregon charitable nonprofit corporation. Representative OVBC projects include opinion research about race-based crimes for the Asian Health and Service Center, as well as research about early childhood education and the cost of childcare for the Children’s Institute.

Baseline Familiarity with Agricultural Subsidies

  • Oregonians are generally unfamiliar with agricultural subsidies, with less than half (43%) saying they have heard or read anything about agricultural subsidies (Q45).  
    • Most Oregonians over 55 years old had some familiarity with agricultural subsidies (53%, 64%, 57% among age groups over 55), whereas most Oregonians younger than 55 were less familiar with the topic (30%, 33%, 39% among age groups under 55).  
    • More than two-thirds of Oregonian college graduates have heard or read something about agricultural subsidies.  

  • When given an open-ended opportunity to share any questions or comments they have about agricultural subsidies, many Oregonians express a preference for extending agricultural subsidies to include more diverse food crops (Q46):

“They’re costly but good and necessary. However, I think they should be expanded to a few more important commodities.” 

Man, age 55-64, Polk County, White 

“If subsidies are going to be offered they should be for more than a few select crops, especially crops that rely heavily upon pesticides and inorganic fertilizers.” 

Woman, age 65-74, Umatilla County, White 

“Subsidies and safety nets/security should be available for more than just 5 crops.” 

Woman, age 18-29, Deschutes County, Asian 

“More crops should receive help than just those 5 (corn, soy & cotton use more fertilizer & pesticides than almost any other crops and shouldn’t be subsidized AT ALL).” 

Man, age 18-29, Lane County, Native American, American Indian, or Alaska Native and White 

  • For some Oregonians, there is an issue of fairness regarding large-scale commercial or industrial farms receiving large amounts of federal subsidies (Q46): 

“It seems unfair that that for the most part the subsidies are available to certain type of farmers and not others.” 

Woman, age 55-64, Washington County, Black or African American, Native American, American Indian, or Alaska Native, and White 

“I think it’s messed up that farmers end up getting screwed a lot when it comes to their own farms. Because the big guys take over and get all the handouts.” 

Woman, age 45-54, Washington County, Native American, American Indian, or Alaska Native and White 

“I believe large corporate farming/agriculture corporate lobbyists influence Congress unfairly.” 

Man, age 18-29, Clatsop County, White 

“I think small farms should get higher subsidies. Large corporations should get them only if they are not making large profits.” 

Woman, age 55-64, Crook County, White 

  • Some Oregonians who have personal experience with agricultural subsidies expressed discontent with how they are administered (Q46): 

“My observations were established years ago when my father was paid to let crops rot in the field.  when my brother was paid subsidies for not producing. It’s a difficult concept for me to feel good about agricultural subsidies to the large-scale waste that I witnessed.  But I moved to the city, and perhaps the subsidy is more measured in today’s world.  I don’t know.” 

Woman, age 65-74, Washington County, White 

“I’ve read a bit about large-scale farmers or industrial Farmers getting tax breaks and things like that, yes. According to my accountant I’m just a hobby farmer because I don’t make more than x amount of money and I think that is absolutely ridiculous. As such I don’t qualify but I grow in a food single-handedly to feed a large part of my community. If I had the ability to expand to my two or three extra Acres that are not currently being used and a couple of employees, we could feed our entire town. But I can’t afford to do that on my own so it’s not happening.” 

Woman, age 45-54, Douglas County, White 

  • Oregonians on average believe that around 39% of small-scale farms in the state receive agricultural subsidies (Q47). About a quarter of the respondents indicated that they do not know enough to take a guess1 

  • Oregonians, on average, also estimate that around 68% of large-scale commercial or industrial farms in the state received agricultural subsidies (Q48). About a third of Oregonians indicated they did not know enough to take a guess1 

Values and Beliefs Related to Farming and Agriculture

  • Three out of four Oregonians (76%) support farmers receiving a discount on crop insurance to help them withstand bad market or weather conditions (Q49). 

  • Almost 8 out of 10 Oregonians support the federal government providing subsidies to small-scale farms (79%) (Q51). A mere 7% of Oregonians oppose government subsidies for small-scale farms. 
    • A similar majority (72%) supports small-scale farms receiving federal subsidies to successfully price match and compete with large-scale commercial or industrial farms (Q52).  

  • U.S. government subsidies to large-scale commercial or industrial farms are far less popular, compared to subsidies for small-scale farms. Only 37% of Oregonians support federal subsidies to these larger operations, while 43% oppose them (Q50). 
    • There is even less approval among Oregonians for federal subsidies that primarily benefit five major crops cultivated by large-scale farmers: fewer than one-third support these subsidies (29%), while almost half are opposed (48%) (Q53).  

  • A slim majority of Oregonians believe that agricultural subsidies promote governmental favoritism toward large-scale commercial or industrial farms (51%) (Q54). The other 49% of Oregonians, on the other hand, feel that agricultural subsidies are necessary for preserving farmers’ financial stability and lower food prices (Q54).  
    • Older Oregonians (age 65-74, 58%) are more likely to believe that agricultural subsidies are reinforcing governmental favoritism toward large producers than younger age groups (age 18-29: 52%) (Q54).  
    • A similar difference exists between college graduates and those without college education, with college graduates more likely to believe agricultural subsidies exacerbate governmental favoritism (60% for college graduates, 44% for those with high school education 50% for those with some college education, and 44% for those with a high school education) (Q54). 
    • White Oregonians are also more likely than BIPOC Oregonians to agree that subsidies exacerbate favoritism. (54% of white Oregonians, 47% of BIPOC Oregonians) (Q54).  
    • On the other hand, Oregonians with school-aged children are more likely to feel that subsidies are necessary for maintaining lower food prices and farmers’ financial stability. (54% for those with school-aged children, 47% for those without) (Q54).

Some respondents express concern over how complicated and difficult it is for smaller farms to access agricultural subsidies (Q55):  

“I know from past experience that if you don’t dot all the I’s and cross all the t’s the government rejects a claim.” 

Woman, age 55-64, Douglas County, Native American, American Indian, or Alaska Native 

“Governmental processes can be overwhelming for a small business – Large farmers likely have paid staff whose job is to find and apply for grants.”  

Man, age 65-74, Washington County, White 

“I do feel that subsidies are fair. I just feel that small-scale farmers should benefit from them just like large/corporate farms do.” 

Woman, age 55-64, Polk County, White 

“If the programs are too complicated for smaller farmers to get help, then the problem is the bureaucracy and government employees.  Sheesh.  Stop making everything so difficult, hire qualified people to work for the government, and get family farmers some help!” 

Man, age 45-64, Multnomah County, White 

Some respondents felt strongly against agricultural subsidies as a whole (Q55): 

“We’d all be better off with less subsidies for any size of farm.”  

Man, age 65-74, Polk County, Native American, American Indian, or Alaska Native  

“The government should NEVER subsidize the production of ANY private goods.  Crop insurance solves the weather-created problems.  Hedging & options can mitigate the surplus yields issue.  Government should be FAR less involved in manipulating farm production.”  

Woman, age 65-74, Washington County, White 

“No subsidies should exist. Government intervention changes people’s behavior and over time we see more problems due to that manipulation. Americans are overweight and generally less healthy than many other first world people. Central planning will never accurately manage people’s lives for the better.”  

Woman, age 30-44, Multnomah County, White 

Summation Quotes

Amaury Vogel, Associate Executive Director: 

  • “Agricultural subsidies remain an unfamiliar topic to most Oregonians. Opinions regarding subsidies vary, with some strongly opposing them, while others consider subsidies a necessary measure for maintaining low commodity prices and stability for farmers.” 
  • “Widespread support is evident for federal subsidies to small-scale farms, but there is a general lack of support for federal subsidies to large commercial or industrial farms.” 
  • “Many Oregonians specifically criticize agricultural subsidies being mostly limited to only a few major crops and express that subsidies should cover more food items.”

Methodology: The online survey consisted of 2,333 Oregon residents ages 18+ and took approximately 15 minutes to complete. Respondents were contacted by using professionally maintained online panels. In gathering responses, a variety of quality control measures were employed, including questionnaire pre-testing, validation, and real-time monitoring of responses. To ensure a representative sample, demographic quotas were set, and the data was weighted by area of the state, gender, age, and education.

Statement of Limitations: Based on a 95% confidence interval, this survey’s margin of error for the full sample is ±2.03%. Due to rounding or multiple-answer questions, response percentages may not add up to 100%. 

For More Information:

OVBC May-June 2023 Survey_Annotated Questionnaire Agriculture(1).docx 

OVBC May-June 2023 Survey_Tabs_Agriculture.pdf 

[1]  Among all the farms in Oregon, 11% received government payments. The percentage of farms in Oregon that receive government payments, by the market value of farms’ agricultural products sold include: 46% of those farms with $500,000 or more in the market value of agricultural products sold received government payments; 42.24% of those farms with $250,000 to $499,999 in the market value of agricultural products sold received government payments; and 8% of farms with $249,999 or less in the market value of agricultural products sold received government payments. USDA 2017 Census of Agriculture: Oregon State and County Data. Census 2017 Report (usda.gov)