TOOLBOX: EWG Ag Subsidy Database a Tall Silo of Environmental Stories

June 27, 2012

Agriculture is one of the biggest environmental stories, but often it is covered less than it deserves to be by overworked and distracted journalists. The use of land and water — not to mention the food we put in our bodies — have huge impacts on human and environmental health. One starting point is to follow the money.

Following the money is a bit easier thanks to a major database tool built by the Environmental Working Group. Any reporter covering the ag-environment link should know about it. By tracking federal subsidies to farms and ranches, and the people and companies who own, operate, and profit from them, EWG's database lays bare much of the politics and policy that might else be obscure.

The EWG farm subsidy database has been online and searchable since at least 2004, and includes data going back at least to 1995. You can search it by ZIP code, or by recipient's name, or by business name, or by other criteria. You can use it to break data down to the state or county level.

Some of the information in the database focuses specifically on environmental issues. For example, it includes payments under the Wetlands Reserve Program and the Conservation Reserve Program. Using the database, along with other information, EWG can focus policy discussion on how federal farm subsidies may affect pollution of the Chesapeake Bay or dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico.

EWG also provides various national overviews in the forms of maps and statistics. It compiles rankings of the top recipients of various kinds of federal ag subsidy payments.

And yes, it allows you to see how much in subsidy payments goes to the districts of members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees — and to the committee members themselves.