TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) - Farm business is big business in this area. Farming has brought more than half a billion dollars of income in the last two decades to just three counties, Tippecanoe, Benton and White.
But is it money well spent?
In a two-part special series called “Harvesting a Profit,” News 18 will investigate the impact of farm subsidies on the area and how a new Farm Bill could change the game for both farmers and taxpayers.
As the wind blows across a farm field in late fall, to a farmer, the noise of the dry stalks waving in the breeze has to sound like a cash register to a farmer. Golden ears of corn are turned into piles of gold, one acre at a time. It's the reward after months of work.
But the harvested crop isn't the only payoff.
The last 18 harvests have brought in more than $604 million in subsidies to Benton, Tippecanoe and White County farmers.
Vanderkleed Farms is #4 on the list, owned by Curt Vanderkleed.
"I'm 55, I've farmed my whole life," Vanderkleed said.
Vanderkleed farms about 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans around West Point. He's collected more than $1.57 million in subsidies since 1995.
Most years, subsides bring in about $45,000 in income. But on five occasions, usually when prices are bad, he's collected more than $100,000 in a single year.
"I prefer not to take anything, but I think that it's a part of the way you do business," Vanderkleed said.
According to USDA data compiled by the advocacy organization Environmental Working Group (EWG), 32 farmers have collected more than $1 million in subsidy payments for their operations in just those three counties since 1995.
The list is topped by Suiter Farms Partnership at $3.1 million. It's a group that also includes a partnership partially owned by District 25 Representative Don Lehe.
But that does not account for farmers who have interests in multiple partnerships.
For example, #28 is W J Brost Farms Incorporated, owned by Bill Brost. It's a recipient of $1.03 million. But Brost is a part of four businesses, Brost Farms Partnership, Oak Ridge LLC and Will Ridge LLC whose nine listed subsidies total nearly $2.2 million, which would put it at #2.
The sixth highest recipient is Purdue University at $1.49 million since '95. With 3,500 acres in Tippecanoe County, it's the site of hundreds of student and faculty projects, as well as crops to feed livestock on the Animal Sciences Farm.
"For us, it's a part of money that is used directly to help support research,” said Director of Purdue Agricultural Centers, Jerry Fankhauser. “The goal for us is to have a crop to meet expenses."
Farmers seem to have no trouble meeting expenses these days. According to the USDA, income for producers nationwide before expenses has risen more than $131 billion in just four years.
"The last five years have been pretty good to farmers. Before that it was mostly a break even proposition," said Vanderkleed.
Expenses have risen as well, $71 billion in four years.
Still, at the same as the median household income in the U-S has fallen about $2,000 since 2009 to $51,017 in 2012, farmers net income after expenses has doubled in just four years, from $60 billion in 2009 to an estimated $120 billion in 2013.
The subsidy checks keep rolling in as well.
"Oh it's nice to have it, but it doesn't mean a lot right now. But if you get back to break even, then it becomes a little more important,” said Vanderkleed.
Vanderkleed isn't as passionate about subsidies as you might think. In part.. because he feels like much of the extra cash is gobbled up by others.
Also, with 2,000 acres of land, he figures his annual expenses at $1.8 million. In other words, it's $200,000 more than all the combined subsidies he's received in the last 18 years.
Vanderkleed breaks down his $900 cost per acre like this: $300 for rent, $250 in capital expenses like machinery and insurance, $350 in variable costs like seed and fertilizer. To make a profit, he has to bring in an average of more than $900 an acre.
"Some years the only money you made was the farm subsidy,” said Vanderkleed. “But if it took it away, costs would adjust themselves down."
But winds of change appear to be blowing on the current subsidy system. Changes that will be explored in part two of “Harvesting a Profit.”
News 18 tried reaching each of the Top Ten Subsidy Recipients on the list. Curt Vanderkleed and Purdue University were the only two who agreed to meet.
According to the USDA data provided by EWG, 207 farmers or entities in Benton, Tippecanoe and White counties have received more than $500,000 in subsidies since 1995. There are 1,201 farmers or entities who have received more than $100,000.
To search for subsidy information from 1995 to 2012 please use the form below.
You can look for farmers individually or take a look at the top recipients in order. You can also take a look at the 2012 subsidies individually. Please note, this database only includes data from Benton, Tippecanoe and White counties. Farmers who farm acres outside these counties may receive additional subsidies that will not show up in this database.
If you just want to look at the combined list of top recipients regardless of county, click the search button without filling in any of the fields.
Work is about to start in Evansville on a long-planned expansion of what is regarded as Indiana's oldest public library.
Treat yourself and your family this holiday season with a performance by the Lafayette Symphony Orchestra.
Pride Lafayette Inc. is commending the mayors of Lafayette and West Lafayette for their stance against a proposed constitutional ban of same-sex marriage, but other major community entities have yet to take a stand for or against it.