Corporatization, conservation, and corn: Shifting patterns of agricultural subsidies in the Southern Great Plains

Authors: Todd Fagin, Oklahoma Biosurvey, University of Oklahoma, Austin Boardman*, Department of Geography, Oklahoma State University, Jacqueline M. Vadjunec, Department of Geography, Oklahoma State University
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Hazards and Vulnerability, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: Agricultural subsidies, Center Pivot Irrigation, Corporate agriculture, Southern Great Plains, Web scraping
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Napoleon Foyer/Common St. Corridor, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: Download


In the Southern Great Plains of the United States, a semi-arid climate and cyclical drought present challenges to farmers and ranchers. To increase resilience, the federal government provides subsidies to agriculturalists for growing certain commodities (i.e. wheat and corn), implementing technologies such as center pivot irrigation (CPI), preserving land through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and in response to natural disasters such as drought. While many agriculturalists consider these programs critical to the sustainability of their operations, the increasing corporatization of farming raises questions regarding which operators receive the greatest benefit from subsidies. We used web-scraping techniques to obtain individual-level data from Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Farm Subsidy Database, as well as a remote sensing time series analysis of CPI growth, for four contiguous counties intersecting Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado. The EWG Database lists annual subsidies from 1995 to 2016, with information related to subsidy types, amounts, and crops. We ask: (1) How have the different types, rates, and amounts of subsidies (commodity, conservation, disaster, etc.) changed over the past two decades, and why? (2) Has there been an increase in the share of subsidies paid to corporations and/or out of county/state agriculturalists in the region? (3) How have subsidies (such as EQIP) impacted the growth or contraction of CPI in the region? We conclude that farm subsidy disbursement closely mirrors the general expansion of corporate agriculture and technologies, while corn prices negatively interact with conservation patterns related to CRP lands.

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