Order Code RL33271
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Farm Commodity Programs:
Direct Payments, Counter-Cyclical
Payments, and Marketing Loans
March 1, 2006
Analyst in Agricultural Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Farm Commodity Programs: Direct Payments,
Counter-Cyclical Payments, and Marketing Loans
Commodity support provisions in the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act
of 2002 (P.L. 107-171, the 2002 farm bill) include three primary types of payments:
(1) annual direct payments unrelated to production or prices, (2) counter-cyclical
payments which are triggered when prices are below statutorily-determined target
prices, and (3) marketing assistance loans that offer interim financing and, if prices
fall below statutorily-determined loan prices, additional income support.
These programs provide a safety net to protect farmers from falling prices and
raise farm income levels. These policies, however, may contribute to world trade
distortions, raise land prices and costs of production, and concentrate benefits among
certain commodities and producers.
This report describes the payments for wheat, feed grains, cotton, rice, oilseeds,
peanuts, wool, mohair, honey, and certain other small grains. These commodities
have similar rules, and generally account for about two-thirds of USDA farm
commodity program outlays. Examples are provided to illustrate how the payment
To receive payments, an individual must share in the risk of producing a crop
and comply with conservation and planting flexibility rules. Each commodity
program has an annual payment limit per farm or individual, but these limits, in
practice, are not constraining because some large farms can be reorganized to meet
the rules, or marketing loans can be repaid in such a way as to avoid the limits.
Total actual and estimated payments for these commodities under the 2002 farm
bill (FY2003-05 actual and FY2006-08 estimated) range from $6.7 billion in FY2004
to an estimated $14.4 billion in FY2006. Direct payments are nearly constant at $5.2
billion annually. Counter-cyclical payments may range from less than $1 billion in
FY2004 to an estimated $5.1 billion in FY2007. Total marketing loan benefits may
range from $0.6 billion in FY2004 to an estimated $5.3 billion in FY2006. By
commodity, feed grains (primarily corn) clearly receive most of the total support,
followed more distantly by cotton, wheat, oilseeds (primarily soybeans), and rice.
This report will be updated if substantial changes occur.
Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Economics Shape Perceptions of Subsidies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Authorizing Legislation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Eligible Commodities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Eligible Producers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Types of Payments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Payment Limitations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Direct Payments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Counter-Cyclical Payments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Marketing Loans and Loan Deficiency Payments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
A History of Loans Supporting Farm Income . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
How Marketing Loans Work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Obtaining a Loan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Repaying a Loan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Repaying with Cash . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Repaying with Commodity Certificates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Forfeiting the Commodity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Taking the LDP Option . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Timing of Payments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Base Acreage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Planting Flexibility . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Updating Bases and Yields in the 2002 Farm Bill . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
Classification for International Trade Agreements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
Federal Spending on Commodity Programs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Additional Information . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
CRS Reports . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
USDA Fact Sheets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
List of Figures
Relationship of Commodity Payments to Market Prices . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Time Line of Payments for the 2006 Crop Year . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Percent of Farms Making No Change to 1996 Base Acres . . . . . . . . . 20
Percent of Farms Adding Oilseeds to 1996 Base Acres . . . . . . . . . . . 20
Percent of Farms Updating All Crop Bases Using Planting History . . 20
Farm Bill Support by Payment Type . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Farm Bill Support by Commodity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
List of Tables
Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Example of Direct Payments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Example of Counter-Cyclical Payments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Marketing Loans: Issued, Retired, and Benefits Paid . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Example of Repaying a Marketing Loan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Use of Commodity Certificates by Crop . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Example of a Loan Deficiency Payment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Base Acres and Actual Plantings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
2002 Farm Bill Payments By Type and Commodity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Farm Commodity Programs: Direct
Payments, Counter-Cyclical Payments, and
Economics Shape Perceptions of Subsidies
The economic argument for farm commodity price and income support is that
markets do not efficiently balance commodity supply with demand. Imbalances
develop because consumers do not respond to price changes by buying proportionally
smaller or larger quantities (demand is price inelastic). Similarly, farmers do not
respond to price changes by proportionally reducing or increasing production (supply
is price inelastic). These imbalances may result in inadequate (or exaggerated)
resource adjustments by farmers. Moreover, the long time lag between planting and
harvest may magnify imbalances because economic and yield conditions may change.
The objectives of federal commodity programs are to stabilize and support farm
incomes by shifting some of the risks to the federal government. These risks include
short-term market price instability and longer term capacity adjustments. The goals
are to maintain the economic health of the nation’s farm sector so that it can utilize
its comparative advantages to be globally competitive in producing food and fiber.
Federal law mandates support for a specific list of farm commodities. For most
of these commodities, support began during 1930’s Depression era efforts to raise
farm household income when commodity prices were low because of prolonged
weak consumer demand. While initially intended to be a temporary effort, the
commodity support programs survived, but have been modified away from supply
control and commodity stocks management to direct income support payments.
Critics of commodity programs usually acknowledge the underlying economic
conditions that make stability more difficult to achieve for agriculture than some
other sectors. However, they argue that (1) current programs are highly distorting of
world production and trade, (2) the levels of subsidies are high and have become
capitalized into land prices and rents that raise the cost of production and make the
United States less competitive in global markets,1 and (3) the benefits are
Predictable government payments are capitalized into land values and rents. Since 60%
of program acres are rented, the landowners receive many benefits (M. Burfisher and J.
Hopkins, “Farm Payments,” Amber Waves, USDA Economic Research Service, Feb. 2003).
concentrated among a comparatively small number of commodities produced on a
small number of large farms.2
When farm programs were first authorized in the 1930s, most of the 6 million
farms in the United States were small and diversified. Policymakers reasoned that
stabilizing farm incomes using price supports and supply controls would help a large
part of the economy (25% of the population lived on farms) and assure abundant food
supplies. In recent decades, the face of farming has changed. Farmers now comprise
less than 2% of the population. Most agricultural production is concentrated in
fewer, larger, and more specialized operations. In 2002, about 7% of farms
accounted for 76% of the sales (these 151,000 farms had average sales over $1
million). Most of the country’s 2 million farms are part-time, and many operators
rely on off-farm jobs for most of their income.
Supporters of commodity subsidy programs may not contradict the critics, but
do point out that other nations have distorting subsidy programs and/or trade barriers
that should be eliminated if the United States is to make reforms. Landowners are
concerned about a loss of rents and wealth if land prices drop in response to a
reduction in the subsidies. Similarly, rural communities are concerned about any
large decline in the real estate tax base that supports local schools, roads, and other
community services. While large farms receive most of the production-linked subsidy
payments, recipients argue that lower input costs and marketing efficiencies make
large farms efficient and small farms uneconomic in the production of bulk
commodities. Therefore, targeting subsidies to small farms, recipients say, would
encourage inefficient production.
The authority for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to operate farm
commodity programs comes from three permanent laws, as amended: the
Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 (P.L. 75-430), the Agricultural Act of 1949
(P.L. 81-439), and the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) Charter Act of 1948
(P.L. 80-806). Congress alters these laws through multiyear farm bills or annual
The current authorizing legislation, the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act
of 2002 (P.L. 107-171, or the 2002 farm bill), was signed into law on May 13, 2002.
This law temporarily suspends most provisions of the permanent laws. Title I
contains provisions regarding farm income and commodity price support programs
for the 2002-2007 crop years (7 U.S.C. 7901 et seq.). It replaced the Federal
Agriculture Improvement and Reform (FAIR) Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-127), including
provisions for the 2002 crop year. Other titles in the farm bill affect conservation,
trade, nutrition, credit, rural development, and research programs and policy.
J. MacDonald, R. Hoppe, and D. Banker, “Growing Farm Size and the Distribution of
Commodity Program Payments,” Amber Waves, USDA Economic Research Service, Feb.
For more information about the history of federal farm income support, see CRS Report
96-900, Farm Commodity Legislation: Chronology, 1933-2002, by Geoffrey S. Becker.
The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-171) includes net reductions of
$2.7 billion over five years for USDA mandatory programs as part of budget
reconciliation ordered in the FY2006 budget resolution (H.Con.Res. 95). Most of the
reduction in farm programs comes from changing the timing of direct payments,
without reducing the overall level of payments to farmers. Not included in the
conference agreement is an across-the board cut in commodity payments, which was
recommended in the House- and Senate-passed bills. For more on budget
reconciliation, see CRS Report RS22086, Agriculture and FY2006 Budget
Reconciliation, by Ralph M. Chite.
As Congress moves increasingly closer to the 2007 expiration of current farm
support programs, policy makers will seek to design a new law that (1) meets the
nation’s domestic needs, (2) satisfies this country’s international trade obligations
under the World Trade Organization, and (3) fits within still-to-be determined
budgetary constraints. For more information about issues affecting the next farm bill
reauthorization, please see CRS Report RL33037, Previewing a 2007 Farm Bill,
coordinated by Jasper Womach. For summaries on other current policy issues
affecting the commodity programs, see CRS Report RS21999, Farm Commodity
Policy: Programs and Issues for Congress, by Jim Monke.
This report covers wheat, feed grains, cotton, rice, oilseeds, peanuts, wool,
mohair, honey, and certain other small grains. These commodities have similar rules,
and generally account for about two-thirds of CCC outlays. Payments for dairy and
sugar are outside the scope of this report.4
The 2002 farm bill defines two classes of commodities: “covered commodities”
and “loan commodities.” The classes determine which types of payments are
available. For example, direct and counter-cyclical payments are available only to
the covered commodities, while marketing loan benefits are available to the larger
group of loan commodities.
Covered commodities include wheat, feed grains (corn, grain sorghum, barley,
and oats), upland cotton, rice, soybeans, and other oilseeds (sunflower seed, rapeseed,
canola, safflower, flaxseed, mustard seed, crambe, and sesame seed). Loan
commodities include the covered commodities, plus extra long staple cotton, wool,
mohair, honey, dry peas, lentils, and small chickpeas.5 Peanuts are classified
separately, but receive payments like the covered commodities.6
For dairy programs, see CRS Issue Brief IB97011, Dairy Policy Issues, by Ralph M. Chite.
For sugar programs, see CRS Issue Brief IB95117, Sugar Policy Issues, by Remy Jurenas.
Covered commodity, loan commodity, and other oilseed are defined in Section 1001, of
P.L. 107-171 (7 U.S.C. 7901). Payments for covered and loan commodities are enumerated
in Title I, Subtitles A and B (7 U.S.C. 7911-7939). Crambe and sesame seed were added
in the FY2004 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 108-7, Division A, Sec. 763).
The peanut program is enumerated in Title I, Subtitle C, of the 2002 farm bill (7 U.S.C.
To receive payments, an individual must share in the risk of producing a crop
and comply with conservation and planting flexibility rules. A term commonly used
in federal regulations is “actively engaged in farming,” which generally means
providing significant contributions of capital (land or equipment) and labor and/or
management, and receiving a share of the crop as compensation. Conservation rules
include protecting wetlands, preventing erosion, and controlling weeds. Planting
flexibility rules prohibit planting fruits or vegetables on acreage that is eligible for
subsidies (discussed more near the end of this report).
Modern farming enterprises usually involve some combination of owned and
rented land. Two types of rental arrangements are common: cash rent and share rent.
Under cash rental contracts, the tenant pays a fixed cash rent to the landlord,
negotiated before the crop is planted. The landlord receives the same rent regardless
of the amount harvested, and thus bears no risk. The tenant bears all the risk,
receives all of the harvest, and pays most of the expenses of growing the crop. Under
share rental contracts, the tenant usually supplies most of the labor and machinery,
while the landlord supplies land and perhaps some machinery or management. Both
the landlord and tenant receive a portion of the crop harvested as payment for their
contribution and may share some input costs.7 Both bear risk in producing a crop,
receiving less if yields and prices are low and more if yields and prices are high.
The 2002 farm bill defines a producer (for purposes of farm program benefits)
as an owner-operator, landlord, tenant, or sharecropper that shares in the risk of
producing a crop and is entitled to a share of the crop produced on the farm. A
landlord receiving crop share as rent is a producer eligible for part of the subsidy
payment together with the tenant. But landlords receiving cash rent are ineligible to
receive program payments.
Even though tenants might receive all of the government payments under cash
rent arrangements, they might not keep all of the benefits if landlords demand higher
rent. Economists widely agree that a large fraction of government farm payments
passes through to landlords, and that government payments raise the price of land.
About 60% of acres enrolled in the government commodity programs are rented.8
Types of Payments
Commodity program payments under the 2002 farm bill combine the direct
payment framework of the 1996 farm bill with counter-cyclical payments in
preceding laws. Depending on the crops that farmers grow or have a history of
planting, they can receive three types of payments based on the values in Table 1:
For example, a typical share rental arrangement in some regions is a 50-50 split of the crop
harvested, with landlord supplying all of the land and half of the cost of certain inputs such
as fertilizer. The tenant supplies all of the labor and pays the remaining share of the input
costs. Management decisions, such as crop diversification, are usually made jointly.
M. Burfisher and J. Hopkins, “Farm Payments,” Amber Waves, USDA Economic Research
Service, Feb. 2003.
annual direct payments unrelated to production or prices,
counter-cyclical payments if market prices are below statutorilydetermined target prices, and
marketing loans that provide interim financing and additional
income support if market prices fall below statutorily-determined
loan prices, sometimes paid as loan deficiency payments (LDP).
Table 1. Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities
(Dollars per unit)
Type of payment
Payment is based on
Direct Payment Counter-Cyclical Marketing Loan
Historical base acres and yield
Value used in formula
Upland Cotton, $/lb
Minor Oilseeds, $/lb
2002-03 2004-07 2002-03 2004-07
Peas, dry, $/cwt
Chickpeas, small, $/cwt
ELS cotton, $/lb
Wool, graded, $/lb
Wool, nongraded, $/lb
Source: CRS, compiled from the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-171),
Title I, Sections 1103, 1104, 1202, 1303, 1304, and 1307.
* payment not applicable for this commodity.
Figure 1 illustrates the three types of commodity payments. For simplicity, the
figure omits some details such as local loan rates being different from the national
loan rate, as explained in later sections. Using corn as an example, if market prices
are above $2.35/bushel, neither counter-cyclical nor marketing loan benefits (e.g.,
LDP) would apply. If market prices are between $1.95 and $2.35/bushel, a countercyclical payment would accrue, but no LDP would be available. If market prices are
below the loan rate of $1.95/bushel, the maximum counter-cyclical payment of
$0.40/bushel is made, and a LDP would be available equal to the difference between
the $1.95 loan rate and the market price. Regardless of market prices, however, the
direct payment of $0.28/bushel is paid.
Figure 1. Relationship of Commodity Payments to Market Prices
Target price = $2.63
$0.28 direct payment, always paid and
used to adjust counter-cyclical payment
Market price > $2.35:
no counter-cyclical payment and no LDP
Market price between $1.95 and $2.35:
counter-cyclical payment but no LDP
Loan rate = $1.95
Market price < $1.95:
maximum counter-cyclical payment of
$0.40 + LDP
Payment Limitations. Payment limits set a maximum amount of farm
commodity program payments that a person can receive. Limits were created in 1970
and continue today. Federal deficits and perceived inequities about the distribution
of payments have heightened congressional attention.
Each type of farm subsidy payment has an annual limit per farm or individual,
aggregating to a total of $360,000. Moreover, producers with adjusted gross income
of over $2.5 million, averaged over each of three years, are not eligible for payments
unless more than 75% of adjusted gross income is from agriculture. The $360,000
limit, however, often is not constraining because some large farms can be
reorganized to meet the rules, or marketing loans can be repaid in such a way as to
avoid the limits.
Legislation has been introduced in the 109th Congress to tighten payment limits
to $250,000, and the Administration also proposed similarly tighter limits in 2005
with the FY2006 budget request, and again in 2006 with the FY2007 budget request.
The effect of payment limits varies greatly across individuals and regions.
Geographically, the South and West tend to have more large farms affected by
payment limits than the Upper Midwest or Northeast. By commodity, cotton and rice
farms are affected more often because the subsidy per acre is relatively higher. For
more details, see CRS Report RS21493, Payment Limits for Farm Commodity
Programs, by Jim Monke.
The 1996 farm bill created production flexibility contract (PFC) payments that
are unrelated to (decoupled from) current production or current market prices. The
2002 farm bill renamed them direct payments.9 A farm is eligible for direct payments
in proportion to its base acres, which are a historical average of its planting history
of a commodity, as discussed later in this report. A farmer is not obligated to grow
the crop to receive a direct payment for that crop, and may plant any crop (with the
exception of fruits and vegetables), or no crop, without losing benefits.
The 2002 farm bill preserves direct payments for wheat, feed grains, cotton, and
rice, and extends them to soybeans, minor oilseeds, and peanuts, which were
previously ineligible. As with the 1996 law, the direct payment is based on 85% of
the eligible “base acres” multiplied by the “direct payment yield” for each farm and
the “payment rate” per unit (Table 1). The direct payment yield is a historical
average yield for the farm, recorded similarly to the base acreage. The adjustment
factor of 85% reduces the number of acres eligible for payments and was instituted
under previous farm bills to reduce Federal expenditures.
The annual limit on direct payments is $40,000 per person, and can be doubled
under certain rules.
Because direct payments do not vary with yield or price conditions, total direct
payments for all crops remain nearly constant at $5.2 billion per year (Table 9).
Example of direct payments. To illustrate how commodity payments are
made, consider the following hypothetical example. A 1,000-acre farm in
Montgomery County, Illinois, has 400 base acres of corn and 600 base acres of
soybeans. Its direct payment yield is 110 bushels/acre for corn and 35
bushels/acre for soybeans. Table 2 shows that the farm’s direct payments would
be $10,472 for corn and $7,854 for soybeans, regardless of what crops are
Table 2. Example of Direct Payments
Direct payment calculation (2005 crop year)
Direct payment yield
Direct payment rate (Table 1)
Corn = 0.85 * 400 * 110 * 0.28
Soybeans = 0.85 * 600 * 35 * 0.44
The USDA fact sheet on direct and counter-cyclical payments is available at
Counter-cyclical payments are automatic payments when market prices are low.
This type of “safety net” payment was first implemented in 1973, but was
discontinued in the 1996 farm bill. The 2002 farm bill reinstated counter-cyclical
payments for wheat, feed grains, rice, and upland cotton and extended them to
soybeans, other oilseeds, and peanuts.10
Formerly called deficiency payments, counter-cyclical payments compensate for
the difference between a crop’s target price and a lower effective market price. The
target price is a statutory benchmark defined in the farm bill (Table 1). The effective
price is the direct payment rate plus the higher of the national season-average market
price or the national loan rate. When effective market prices exceed the target price,
no payment is made.
As with direct payments, counter-cyclical payments are tied to a farm’s base
acres and “counter-cyclical payment yield” and do not depend on current production.
Thus, even though the counter-cyclical program payment rate formula depends on
market prices, it does not require the farmer to produce any of the commodity.
The annual limit on counter-cyclical payments is $65,000 per person and can be
doubled under certain rules.
Because counter-cyclical payments depend upon market prices, total countercyclical payments can vary greatly from year to year. For all crops covered during
the 2002 farm bill, counter-cyclical payments may range from less than $1 billion in
FY2004 to an estimated $5.1 billion in FY2007 (Table 9).
Other payments may be considered “counter-cyclical” also. For example, loan
deficiency payments (described below) are counter-cyclical because they increase as
Example of counter-cyclical payments. Continuing with the previous
hypothetical example, suppose the farm’s counter-cyclical payment yield is 125
bushels/acre for corn and 40 bushels/acre for soybeans. Suppose the seasonaverage market price, computed after the end of the 2005 crop’s marketing year
in September 2006,11 is above the national loan rates for both corn and soybeans.
Table 3 shows that after adding the direct payment rate to the season-average
market price to compute the effective price, the resulting counter-cyclical
payment rate is $0.15/bushel for corn and $0 for soybeans. Corn receives a
counter-cyclical payment because the effective price is less than the target price,
but soybeans do not receive a counter-cyclical payment since the effective price
exceeds the target price. The counter-cyclical payment for corn is $6,375,
regardless of what crops are planted.
Milk also has a new counter-cyclical payment, but with a different payment mechanism.
The crop year is the calendar year during which a crop is harvested. This contrasts with
the marketing year, which is the 12-month period that begins when a crop is harvested and
during which the crop is sold.
Table 3. Example of Counter-Cyclical Payments
Counter-cyclical payment calculation
(2005 crop year)
Target price (Table 1)
Higher of season-average market price or
national loan rate
+ Direct payment rate
= Effective price
Counter-cyclical payment rate (higher of target
price minus effective price, or zero)
Corn = 0.85 * 400 * 125 * 0.15
Soybeans = 0.85 * 600 * 40 * 0
Counter-cyclical payment yield
Marketing Loans and Loan Deficiency Payments
Marketing loans are nonrecourse loans12 that farmers can obtain by pledging
their harvested commodities as collateral.13 The loans provide interim financing by
allowing farmers to receive some revenue for their crop when the loan is requested,
while at the same time storing the commodity for later disposition when prices may
be higher. Loan deficiency payments (LDPs) are an alternative to taking out a loan,
and allow farmers to market grain in response to market signals while receiving the
benefits of the loan program.
Marketing loans provide minimum price guarantees on the crop actually
produced, unlike direct or counter-cyclical payments, which are tied to historical
bases. National-level loan prices (Table 1) are set by the 2002 farm bill, and were
negotiated rather than set based on formulas as in previous farm bills. USDA adjusts
these to local loan rates to reflect spatial difference in markets and transportation.14
The original purpose of the loan program was to give farmers short-term funds
to pay expenses until commodities are sold, hence the name marketing assistance
loans. Without such credit, more farmers may be compelled to sell their crop at
“Nonrecourse” means that the collateral can be forfeited at the end of the term with no
penalty. The government takes no recourse beyond accepting the commodity as full
settlement of the loan, even if the market price of the commodity is less than the loan.
The USDA fact sheet on mar ke t i n g l o a n s i s
a va i l a b l e
Local loan prices are available at [http://www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/psd/LoanRate.htm].
harvest when prices are low and oversupply the market. Marketing loans encourage
farmers to sell crops in response to price signals rather than creditor pressure.
The marketing loan program has four mechanisms to provide benefits when
market prices are below loan rates:
loan deficiency payment (LDP) — direct payment of loan benefits,
instead of taking out a loan and repaying the loan
marketing loan gain (MLG) — repaying a loan at a lower price
than the original loan, and keeping the difference as a loan benefit
certificate gain — similar to a MLG but without payment limits;
repay a loan with commodity certificates instead of cash
forfeiting the collateral (commodity) and keeping the principal
(cash from the loan).
Each transaction is discussed in more detail below. The “covered commodities”
(wheat, corn, sorghum, barley, oats, upland cotton, rice, soybeans, and other oilseeds)
and peanuts are eligible for all marketing loan benefits. Extra long staple (ELS)
cotton also is eligible, but not for LDPs. The 2002 farm bill reinstated wool, mohair,
and honey, and added dry peas, lentils, and small chickpeas to the list of “loan
The annual limit on marketing loan gains and LDPs is $75,000 per person, and
this limit can be doubled under certain rules. However, gains from using commodity
certificates or forfeiting commodities are not limited. Thus, the marketing loan
program is effectively unlimited.
Because marketing loan benefits depend on market prices, total marketing loan
benefits can vary greatly from year to year. For all crops during the 2002 farm bill,
marketing loan benefits may range from $0.6 billion in FY2004 to an estimated $5.3
billion in FY2006 (Table 9). The vast majority of marketing loan benefits are paid
out as loan deficiency payments (rather than producers actually taking out a loan and
receiving marketing loan gains or certificate gains).
A History of Loans Supporting Farm Income
The marketing loan price guarantee is a long-standing element of the federal
farm income safety net. But the loan program was not always as market-oriented as
it is today, and its role in supporting income used to be greater, especially before the
advent of the current program’s direct and counter-cyclical payments.
Before changes in 1985 which increased market orientation, the loan program
was an important supply management and price support mechanism. To participate
in the commodity programs, farmers frequently were required to take land out of
production. Every year, USDA would determine the “set-aside” ratio, a percentage
of base acres for each commodity to not be planted but placed in a conserving use to
control erosion. Set-aside requirements often ranged between 5-15%, with the higher
amounts dictated when surpluses were large.
Moreover, to receive the price supports available under the loan program,
commodities needed to be placed under loan and stored. Loan prices were higher,
and the current loan repayment options did not exist when market prices were below
the loan price. Forfeiture was common because many loans matured before market
prices rose enough to bring the commodity out of storage. Farmers would let the
government take possession of the collateral to satisfy the loan. Large volumes of
forfeited grain caused problems because they removed supplies from the market and
distorted trade. But when government stocks eventually came out of storage, they
sometimes tended to oversupply the market. To reduce this impact, the government
donated commodities for food aid programs, diverted them to nontraditional uses, or
devised ways to give commodities to farmers as a “payment-in-kind” for continued
participation. But many observers viewed the government as an inefficient manager
of supplies and stocks, and preferred a stronger market orientation.
The transition away from supply management and price support was gradual,
beginning in the 1970s. Loan prices were slowly reduced so as not to interfere with
market prices as often. Various production control mechanisms (such as acreage setasides or diversions, and conservation reserves) helped reduce supplies and support
prices. The 1985 farm bill completed the evolution to marketing loans with an
explicit policy not to use loans to control market supplies.
The 1996 farm bill went further to separate income support from market
intervention. Producers of wheat, feed grains, rice, and upland cotton received
annual direct payments from 1996-2002, along with nearly complete planting
flexibility. They could plant almost any crop (except fruits and vegetables) without
government limits on acreage and still receive income support. Set-aside acres were
eliminated. This policy shift was motivated in part by the tendency of other countries
to increase production when U.S. farmers were required to cut back on acreage, and
the desire to decouple payments from production.
The 2002 farm bill continued the marketing loan program and LDPs,
emphasizing that the loan program should minimize accumulation of commodity
inventories. It reinstated loans for several commodities that had been cut from the
program in 1996 (wool, mohair, and honey), and added dry peas, lentils, and small
chickpeas to the list of eligible crops.
Table 4 shows the volume of loan activity from FY2001 to FY2005, and
estimates for FY2006. The volume of loans issued fluctuates from $10-12 billion.
With the exception of 2001 and 2005, the design of the program has been successful
in minimizing the amount of commodities forfeited to about 1-2% of loan volume.
The use of commodity certificates as a way of repaying loans has grown
significantly since being introduced in 2000. In FY2000, only 9% of loan
repayments were with certificates. In FY2005, 39% were repaid with certificates.
Table 4 also shows the total income support benefits from the loan program.
Loan benefits were $8.1 billion in FY2000, and have declined since as market prices
have risen. However, in FY2006, marketing loan benefits are expected to return to
the $5 billion level.
Table 4. Marketing Loans: Issued, Retired, and Benefits Paid
(Millions of dollars)
Benefits to farmers:
Source: USDA Farm Service Agency, “Output 4: Summary of CCC Loan and Inventory Activity,”
and “Output 50: Total Cash Commodity Payments,” Commodity Estimates Book for FY2007
President’s Budget (Feb. 6, 2006).
** Write-offs include marketing loan gains & certificate gains (repaying a loan when market prices
are below the loan rate).
How Marketing Loans Work
When the producer needs cash but wants to wait to sell the commodity, taking
out a loan is feasible regardless of market prices. LDPs are available only if market
prices are less than the loan price (also known as the loan rate, which is different
from the interest rate charged on marketing loans). Loan prices generally are set
below normal market lows, but market prices occasionally drop lower.
Obtaining a Loan. Producers pledge harvested commodities as collateral to
obtain interest-bearing nonrecourse loans from the Commodity Credit Corporation
(CCC).15 The value of the loan is the loan price multiplied by the quantity pledged
as collateral. Producers may obtain loans any time during a several-month period
following harvest. Loans mature in nine months, but may be repaid earlier.
Repaying a Loan. Marketing loans can be retired in three ways:
repaying in cash,
repaying using commodity certificates, or
forfeiting the commodity to the CCC.
The interest rate charged on commodity loans was 5.375% during December 2005 (1%
above CCC’s cost of borrowing from the U.S. Treasury, as mandated by the 1996 farm bill).
Rates change monthly depending on the government cost of borrowing.
Repaying with Cash. If market prices exceed the loan price when the loan
is repaid, the producer repays principal plus interest. Typically, the producer then
sells the commodity on the open market for the higher market price.
If market prices are lower than the loan price when the producer decides to
repay the loan (that is, the value of the collateral is less than the principal of the loan),
the producer repays the loan at the lower price, keeps the difference between the
original loan price and the lower repayment price, and retains ownership of the
commodity for selling in the open market. The repayment price is called the posted
county price (PCP, or adjusted world price for rice and cotton).16 The difference
between the loan price and the lower repayment price is called a marketing loan gain
(MLG) and is taxable with farm income as a government payment.
Example of a marketing loan. Continuing the hypothetical example,
suppose that during the 2005 crop year the farm actually planted 500 acres of
corn and 500 acres of soybeans using the planting flexibility allowed. Table 5
shows that if actual yields were above average at 135 bushels/acre for corn and
44 bushels/acre for soybeans, the actual production eligible for the marketing
loan program would be 67,500 bushels of corn and 22,000 bushels of soybeans.
Since the farm is in Montgomery County, Illinois, the local loan rates for the
2005 crop year are $1.96/bushel for corn and $5.12/bushel for soybeans (higher
than the national average loan rates according to the Farm Service Agency).
Suppose after harvesting the grain, the producer decided to take out a
marketing loan on November 1, 2005, on the entire crop and received the local
loan rate on all of the bushels. The loan totaled $132,300 for corn and $112,640
for soybeans. Suppose on January 19, 2006, the farmer decided to repay the
loans and market the grain. Since the posted county price (PCP) for corn on
January 19 was below the local loan rate, the farmer repaid the corn loan at the
lower posted county price, thus receiving a $11,475 marketing loan gain (MLG).
Since the PCP for soybeans was above the local loan rate, the farmer repaid the
soybean loan at the original loan rate plus interest.
Posted county prices (PCPs) are determined daily by USDA for 17 commodities in each
county in the United States, resulting in 88,000 daily prices. The calculation begins with
previous-day prices at nearby terminal markets and then adjusts for CCC’s County Average
Location Differentials (largely transportation costs) to reflect the local market. Daily PCPs
are available online at [http://www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/psd/default.htm].
Producers sometimes assert that the posted county price in their county does not
accurately reflect the local market, and thus that they do not receive the level of payments
to which they are entitled. If the PCP is higher than the local cash market price, the
marketing loan benefits paid to the farmer will be smaller. This issue was raised in the
1990s, and resulted in USDA making adjustments to it models. In December 2005, the
House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on posted county prices to examine recent
producer concerns. USDA officials explained the process of daily determining PCPs and
efforts to accurately adjust for geographic differences. House Agriculture Committee,
“Review Technical Procedures of USDA’s Establishment of Posted County Prices,” Serial
No. 109-24, December 14, 2005 [http://agriculture.house.gov/hearings/109/10924.pdf].
Once the loans are repaid, the farmer can sell the grain to a local elevator
for the cash market price. If the farmer were able to sell at a price equal to the
posted county price on that day (which may not necessarily be the case but is
assumed here), the market revenue from selling the grain would be $120,825 for
corn and $118,140 for soybeans. Combining market revenue with government
payments (including direct, counter-cyclical and marketing loans), total revenue
would be $149,147 for corn and $125,994 for soybeans.
Table 5. Example of Repaying a Marketing Loan
Marketing loan gain (MLG) calculation
(2005 crop year)
Acres actually planted
Actual yield per acre
National loan rate (Table 1)
Local loan rate (Montgomery County, Illinois)
Farmer obtains a marketing loan on November
1, 2005, and receives cash
Posted county price (PCP) on January 19, 2006
when farmer chooses to repay the loan
Farmer repays loan in cash on January 19, 2006
For corn, repaid at the lower PCP
For soybeans, repaid at lower loan rate plus
interest ($5.12 + interest for 79 days at 5.375%)
Marketing loan gain (MLG)
Corn = $132,300 - 120,825
Soybeans = $0 (interest paid = $1,310.40)
Farmer sells grain on open market at a cash
price assumed equal to the posted county price
Total government payments
Direct + counter-cyclical + marketing loan gain
Total revenue to farmer
Repaying with Commodity Certificates. Certificates are a relatively new
loan repayment option.17 The outcome is the same as repaying with cash, but the
benefit is not counted against the $75,000 payment limit on marketing loan gains and
loan deficiency payments.
In October 1999, Congress amended the 1996 farm bill to allow commodity certificates
to be issued to repay loans (P.L. 106-78, sec. 812). In February 2000, the Secretary of
Agriculture implemented the certificate program. The use of certificates to repay marketing
loans continues under the 2002 farm bill.
USDA sells generic commodity certificates only to producers seeking to repay
outstanding marketing loans for less than the loan price. The producer buys a
certificate at the posted county price (or adjusted world price for rice and cotton) for
the quantity of commodity under loan and immediately gives it back to USDA to
repay the loan. This extra transaction (of paying cash to buy a certificate and
promptly using it to repay the loan, instead of repaying with the same cash) is an
accounting maneuver that prevents the gain from counting toward payment limits.
The producer can then sell the commodity on the open market as described before.
The overall use of certificates grew dramatically from $635 million in FY2000
to $5.1 billion in FY2005. Some of the increase comes from greater loan volume
when prices are low, but certificate use also has grown relative to cash repayments.
Cotton and, to a lesser degree, rice dominate the activity in certificates, and
accounted for 71% of certificates issued in FY2000, growing to more than 96% in
FY2002-05 (Table 6). Only in FY2000, the first year for such certificates, did feed
grains, soybeans, or wheat have a noticeable share of the certificate volume.
Cooperative marketing associations (CMAs) account for much of the marketing
activity for cotton and rice producers. Producers deliver a commodity to the CMA
and authorize it to participate in the marketing loan program on their behalf. CMAs
are more common for cotton and rice than for feed grains, wheat, and oilseeds.
Table 6. Use of Commodity Certificates by Crop
(Millions of dollars)
Dry peas, lentils
Source: USDA Farm Service Agency, “Output 18: CCC Certificate Exchange Costs,” Commodity
Estimates Book for FY2007 President’s Budget (Feb. 6, 2006).
Forfeiting the Commodity. Forfeit effectively results in selling the
commodity to the government at the loan price. This option is available due to the
nonrecourse nature of the loan. Forfeiture was more common before the 1985 farm
bill, when storing commodities was necessary to participate in the loan program, and
before loan deficiency payments were created. Very little of any commodity is
forfeited under the current farm programs, because the programs are designed to
discourage that activity.
Taking the LDP Option. When market prices are below loan prices,
producers may choose to bypass the loan process and receive LDPs equal to the
difference between the local loan price and the lower posted county price (or adjusted
world price). LDPs offer similar income benefits to marketing loan gains and are
also taxable. The availability of LDPs reduces the amount of grain placed under loan
and allows producers to market grain without loan collateral restrictions.
Example of a loan deficiency payment (LDP). Continuing with the
hypothetical example, suppose the producer decided not to take out a loan but
rather chose to receive a loan deficiency payment. Table 7 shows that on
January 19, 2006, the LDP would have been $0.17/bushel for corn and $0 for
soybeans, based on the posted county prices (PCP) for that date. For the entire
crop of corn, the total LDP on that day would have been $11,475. Note that this
is the same result as for the marketing loan gain in Table 5 since it uses the PCP
from the same day.
Table 7. Example of a Loan Deficiency Payment
Loan deficiency payment (LDP) calculation
(2005 crop year)
Local loan rate (Montgomery County, Illinois)
Posted county price (PCP)on January 19, 2006
when LDP option is exercised
Loan deficiency payment rate (higher of local
loan rate minus posted county price, or zero)
Loan deficiency payment (LDP)
Corn = 67,500 * 0.17
Soybeans = 22,000 * 0
The various loan repayment and LDP provisions accomplish several objectives.
By avoiding forfeiture, the government avoids the costs and complications of
inventory storage and disposal. Farmers retain possession of the commodities and
make marketing decisions, rather than the CCC taking possession and possibly
accumulating market-distorting stocks.
Farmers generally appreciate the marketing flexibility and sometimes have been
able to sell their commodity for more than the loan repayment price. In such cases,
however, the farmer is exposed to market price volatility and is speculating once the
LDP is taken or the loan is repaid. This practice, however, has become commonplace
in rural America, with market advisory services recommending particular weeks
when farmers should “lock-in” their LDP (usually near harvest when prices are low),
and when later in the marketing year that farmers should sell their commodity in the
cash market when prices are usually higher.
Timing of Payments
The 2002 farm bill establishes a payment schedule for each type of commodity
payment. Direct payments (DP) are made in two parts: an advance payment in
December, and the balance in the following October. Counter-cyclical payments
(CCP) are made in three parts: a first payment in October of the year the crop is
harvested of up to 35% of the projected payment, a second payment in the following
February, and a final payment at the end of the marketing year after the seasonaverage market price is determined. Thus, payments for the 2006 crop began in
December 2005 with the advance direct payment, and will end by October 2007 with
the final counter-cyclical payment (Figure 2). For tax deferral or other reasons,
producers can elect to not receive advance or partial payments.
Figure 2. Time Line of Payments for the 2006 Crop Year
Marketing loans are available anytime after the commodity is normally
harvested until a specified date in the following calendar year (e.g., for corn, from fall
harvest until May 31). Marketing loans mature nine months after a loan is obtained.
The portion of direct payments made in advance is reduced under the Deficit
Reduction Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-171). The 2002 farm bill allowed up to 50% of
direct payments in advance of the crop year. The reconciliation law reduces the
advanced payment rate to 40% in the 2006 crop year and to 22% in 2007. Only the
portion paid in advance is changed; the total direct payment is not reduced.
However, the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 was enacted on February 8, 2006,
after the advanced direct payments for the 2006 crop year were paid in December
2005. Thus, the reduction originally envisioned for the 2006 crop year (and the 2006
fiscal year) will not be achieved. However, the same budgetary savings will accrue
all in one year (FY2007) when the advance payment ratio drops from 50% to 22%
for the 2007 crop year. Reducing the advance payment rate is scored as a one-time
savings.18 For more information, see CRS Report RS22086, Agriculture and FY2006
Budget Reconciliation, by Ralph M. Chite.
Congressional Budget Office, Cost Estimate: S. 1932, Deficit Reduction Act of 2005,
January 27, 2006, p. 10 [http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/70xx/doc7028/s1932conf.pdf].
Every farm participating in the government commodity program has a unique
“base acreage,” “direct payment yield,” and “counter-cyclical payment yield”
recorded with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) for each of the “covered
commodities” and peanuts. These bases and yields are used to calculate direct and
counter-cyclical payments, but are unrelated to the marketing loan program. Under
the 2002 farm bill, there are 268.6 million base acres of the program commodities.
Corn, wheat, and soybeans account for 81% of the total base acres (Table 8).
A farm’s base acreage and payment yield depend on its planting history of the
crop, and can change only when bases are allowed to be updated. Certain exceptions
allow prevented plantings to be counted as planted acres after droughts or floods.
Farmers report acreage and yields annually to their local FSA county office.
The formula for both direct and counter-cyclical payments uses a definition of
“payment acres” equal to 85% of base acres. This adjustment reduces program costs,
and has been used in previous farm bills. The direct payment equals the payment
acres multiplied by the direct payment yield and a fixed payment rate established in
the farm bill for each crop. The counter-cyclical payment is similar, but uses a
payment rate tied to season-average market prices.
Table 8. Base Acres and Actual Plantings
Millions of acres
in 2005 crop year
Source: CRS, using USDA data.
Percent of base
The law gives farmers considerable flexibility to plant nearly any crop (except
fruits and vegetables) on base acres and still receive payments.19 Planting flexibility
refers to the ability to receive subsidy payments for a base crop (such as corn), but
to grow a different crop on those base acres (such as soybeans). Planting flexibility
was introduced in the 1990 farm bill, and is meant to allow farmers to respond to
market signals when choosing crops. Any crop may be grown on base acres, with the
exception of fruits and vegetables which are restricted to protect growers who do not
receive payments. In recent years, farmers have planted fewer acres of wheat, rice,
and cotton than were registered as base acres, while planting more acres of soybeans,
other oilseeds, and oats than are registered as base acres (Table 8).
The 2002 farm bill allows limited exceptions to the fruit and vegetable
protections only for growers with a history of such planting (P.L. 107-171, Sec. 1106
(c)). Legislation has been introduced in the 108th and 109th Congress to expand
planting flexibility. For more on these issues, see CRS Report RS21999, Farm
Commodity Policy: Programs and Issues for Congress, by Jim Monke.
Updating Bases and Yields in the 2002 Farm Bill
The 2002 farm bill offered farmers a rare opportunity to update their program
base acreage and yields (P.L. 107-171, Sec. 1101-1102). Previous farm bills had
frozen program yields since 1985, and base acreages since 1996. Moreover, even
when base acreages could be increased in the 1980s and early 1990s, many farmers
did not change their base acreages because they would lose program benefits while
establishing a different planting history. Thus, for the vast majority of farmers who
participated annually, bases and yields had not been updated for over a decade.
Now that they have been updated, bases and yields are frozen until at least the
2007 crop year when the 2002 farm bill expires. USDA implemented five options
based on the statute, most using the production flexibility contract (PFC) base from
the 1996 farm bill as a starting point. For updates, the four-year period 1998-2001
was used to determine “average” plantings and yields. Peanut base was limited to
“historic growers” during 1998-2001 when the peanut quota system existed.
USDA tracked the decisions of the 2.1 million eligible farms that had PFC
acreage from the 1996 farm bill and/or a planting history of at least one covered
commodity between 1998 and 2001. Results indicate that 41% of farms chose to
establish new base acreages using only their planting histories from 1998-2001.
Nearly three-fourths of this subset (28% of the total) also chose to update their
counter-cyclical program yields. Another 35% of farms chose to add oilseed acreage
to their existing 1996 base acreage. Thus, 76% of farms made some change to their
base acres. The remaining 24% of farms chose to make no changes.
Certain regions preferred different options. Figure 3 shows that a majority of
farms in the western Great Plains kept their 1996 base acreage with no changes.
Planting flexibility is legislated in P.L. 107-171, section 1106 and section 1306.
Figure 4 illustrates that adding oilseeds to 1996 base was preferred by majorities
throughout many parts of the Midwest (particularly Iowa), northern Great Plains,
Southeast, and west Southwest. Figure 5 indicates that updating all bases was the
majority choice in central Illinois and near the border of South Dakota and
Figure 3. Percent of Farms Making No
Change to 1996 Base Acres
Figure 4. Percent of Farms Adding Oilseeds
to 1996 Base Acres
Figure 5. Percent of Farms Updating All Crop
Bases Using Planting History
These changes indicate that many farmland owners perceived economic value
in adjusting their base acreage and yields. They updated base acres in ways that
increased their expected income from program payments. Farmland owners with
high-payment base acres, such as rice and cotton, held on to these base acres and,
whenever possible, expanded them. Farmland owners with low-payment base acres,
such as oats and barley, switched to higher payment commodities whenever possible
based on recent planting history or the opportunity to create oilseed base acres.20
Classification for International Trade Agreements
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the principal forum for regulating and
negotiating multilateral trade. Under the most recently completed round of WTO
trade negotiations — the 1995 Uruguay Round — the United States agreed to abide
by a set of disciplines that govern not only export subsidies, import tariffs, and
quotas, but also domestic farm programs. Programs with greater potential for
stimulating excess production and distorting world trade became subject to annual
Under the WTO, domestic farm support programs are categorized into boxes
(amber, blue, or green) according to their likelihood to distort trade. Amber box
policies (the most trade-distorting policies) are subject to total annual spending
limits. In contrast, blue box policies are narrowly defined to include only a specific
subset of production-limiting programs, but have no spending limit. Finally, green
box policies (the least trade-distorting policies) are exempt from spending limits.
The categories provide policymakers latitude to develop domestic support
measures that both can benefit producers and at the same time comply with WTO
obligations. Countries are largely self-policing when categorizing and reporting
subsidies. That is, each country has some discretion in determining whether a
subsidy is green or amber, and in calculating the value to report to WTO. Once
notified, classifications may be challenged under WTO dispute settlement processes.
The United States has yet to notify the WTO concerning any payments made under
the 2002 farm bill, leaving some uncertainty as to classifying new payments.
The Administration is expected to classify and report direct payments as
“decoupled” and place them in the green box where they are exempt from limits. This
would be consistent with the classification of production flexibility contract (PFC)
payments under the 1996 farm bill. However, this classification was brought into
question by a 2005 appellate ruling in a WTO dispute settlement case brought by
Brazil against the U.S. cotton program.21 The case found that U.S. direct payments
do not qualify for the green box as fully decoupled income support because of the
restriction on planting fruits and vegetables on base acres. However, the panel did
USDA Economic Research Service, Economic Analysis of Base Acre and Payment Yield
Designations Under the 2002 U.S. Farm Act, Economic Research Report 12, Sept. 2005, 46
See CRS Report RL32571, U.S.-Brazil WTO Cotton Subsidy Dispute, by Randy Schnepf.
not specifically reclassify U.S. direct payments as amber box, nor did the panel
recommend that the United States should notify such future payments as amber box.
Because counter-cyclical payments did not start until 2002, the United States
has yet to notify them to the WTO. However, the United States has been negotiating
in the WTO’s Doha Round to redefine blue box criteria to include counter-cyclical
payments. Some other WTO members have argued that counter-cyclical payments
should be notified in the amber box because they are tied to market prices and have
no acreage limitations.
Benefits from the marketing loan program such as marketing loan gains and
loan deficiency payments are classified as amber box payments because they are
linked to per-unit levels of production.
For a detailed discussion of the WTO and U.S. agricultural policy commitments,
see CRS Report RL30612, Agriculture in the WTO: Member Spending on Domestic
Support, and CRS Report RS20840, Agriculture in the WTO: Limits on Domestic
Support, both by Randy Schnepf.
Federal Spending on Commodity Programs
The 2002 farm bill covers crop years 2002-2007. Given the timing of payments,
federal outlays for these crop years will occur primarily over FY2003-08. USDA and
the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) periodically estimate a baseline for
agricultural programs, using projections of production, inventories, and prices.
Projections of spending in future years are only estimates, and actual amounts
can vary greatly from the forecasts. The commodity programs are mandatory
programs authorized by the farm bill, not discretionary programs subject to annual
appropriations. Payments will be made on prevailing conditions, regardless of budget
projections. When actual spending is less than the forecast, no budgetary savings are
realized. When actual spending is greater than the forecast, no penalty on future or
other program spending is assessed nor is any supplemental appropriation necessary.
Table 9 shows USDA data for the actual spending in FY2003-05 and estimated
spending in FY2006-08 for commodities receiving direct payments, counter-cyclical
payments, and marketing loans as described in this report. Total payments for these
commodities under the 2002 farm bill range from $6.7 billion in FY2004 to an
estimated $14.4 billion in FY2006.22 These amounts do not include any disaster,
emergency, or market-loss payments made by supplemental appropriations bills.
For the latest estimate of commodity program spending, including dairy payments, market
loss assistance, and certain conservation spending, see USDA’s “Table 35 — CCC Net
Outlays by Commodity and Function” at [http://www.fsa.usda.gov/dam/bud/bud1.htm].
Table 9. 2002 Farm Bill Payments By Type and Commodity
(Millions of dollars)
and loan commodities
By type of payment
Loan deficiency payment
Marketing loan gains**
Other feed grains
Wool, mohair, honey
Lentils, chickpeas, dry
Millions of dollars
Millions of dollars
Source: CRS, using USDA Farm Service Agency, “Output 50: Total Cash Commodity Payments,”
and “Output 4: Summary of CCC Loan and Inventory Activity,” Commodity Estimates Book for
FY2007 President’s Budget (Feb. 6, 2006).
* USDA estimates smaller direct payments in fiscal years 2006-07 due to the Deficit Reduction Act
of 2005 which cuts advance direct payments. Total direct payments per crop year will remain
nearly constant at approximately $5.2 billion.
** Includes certificate gains.
Direct payments per crop year are nearly constant at $5.2 billion annually.
However, due to cuts in the advance payment ratio contained in the Deficit Reduction
Act of 2005, USDA estimates smaller direct payments in fiscal years 2006-07
(Figure 6). The cut pushes some crop year 2006-07 payments into FY2007-08.
However, USDA’s estimates do not reflect CBO’s score that FY2006 savings will
not be achieved since the act was enacted after advance payments for crop year 2006
were made (see the Timing of Payments section). Thus, a more accurate projection
of direct payments may be about $5.2 billion in FY2006 and $3.8 billion in FY2007.
Because counter-cyclical payments and marketing loans depend on market
prices, they can vary over time. Counter-cyclical payments range from less than $1
billion in FY2004 to an estimated $5.1 billion in FY2007. The vast majority of
marketing loan benefits are paid out as loan deficiency payments (rather than actually
taking out a loan). LDP’s range from $0.5 billion in FY2004 to an estimated $4.8
billion in FY2006 (Figure 6).
Figure 6. Farm Bill Support by Payment Type
Mkt loan gain
Fiscal year (* estimate)
Source: CRS, using USDA Commodity Estimates Book, February 6, 2006
By commodity, feed grains (primarily corn) clearly receive most of the support,
followed more distantly by cotton, wheat, oilseeds (primarily soybeans), and rice
(Figure 7). This ranking by total dollars depends on acreage allocations, market
prices relative to target prices, and subsidies per acre. Different rankings may result
using criteria such as subsidy per acre or subsidy per farm (see CRS Report
RL32590, Average Farm Subsidy Payments, by State, 2002, by Jasper Womach).
Figure 7. Farm Bill Support by Commodity
Fiscal year (* estimate)
Source: CRS, using USDA Commodity Estimates Book, February 6, 2006
In conclusion, government policy provides a safety net for farm income by
providing income support through direct, counter-cyclical, and marketing loan
payments. These policies, however, may contribute to world trade and production
distortions, raise land prices and costs of production, and concentrate benefits among
certain commodities and producers. This report summarized how those payments are
made, and provided examples and data. For information about current policy issues
affecting the commodity programs or issues affecting the next farm bill
reauthorization, please see the CRS reports listed below.
CRS Report RS21999, Farm Commodity Policy: Programs and Issues for Congress,
by Jim Monke.
CRS Report RS21493, Payment Limits for Farm Commodity Programs, by Jim
CRS Report RL32590, Average Farm Subsidy Payments, by State, 2002, by Jasper
CRS Report RL33037, Previewing a 2007 Farm Bill, coordinated by Jasper
CRS Report RL30612, Agriculture in the WTO: Member Spending on Domestic
Support, by Randy Schnepf.
USDA Fact Sheets
USDA fact sheet, “Direct and Counter-cyclical Payment Program,” May 2003
USDA fact sheet, “Direct and Counter-cyclical Payment Program: Wild Rice, Fruit,
and Vegetable Provisions,” February 2003
USDA fact sheet, Nonrecourse Marketing Assistance Loan and Loan Deficiency
Payment Program,” June 2003
USDA fact sheet, “Payment Eligibility and Limitations,” June 2003
USDA, “Table 35 — CCC Net Outlays by Commodity and Function”