Hayden cattle and wheat farmer Kurt Frentress works on a tractor in his shop  Saturday. Frentress says losing farm subsidies would hurt his business.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Hayden cattle and wheat farmer Kurt Frentress works on a tractor in his shop Saturday. Frentress says losing farm subsidies would hurt his business.

Farm subsidy cuts not severe for Routt County

Farmers still would be affected by not receiving farm subsidies


By the numbers

USDA farm subsidies (1995 to 2009)

By state

1. Texas: $23.08 billion

2. Iowa: $20.98 billion

3. Illinois: $17.58 billion

4. Minnesota: $14.38 billion

5. Nebraska: $13.99 billion

21. Colorado: $4.50 billion

By Colorado county

1. Kit Carson County: $481.39 million

2. Yuma County: $448.40 million

3. Weld County: $380.33 million

4. Washington County: $325.55 million

5. Baca County: $321.30 million

33. Routt County: $19.14 million

Source: Environmental Working Group’s Farm Subsidy Database

— Kurt Frentress said 20 percent of his Hayden farm’s revenue comes in the form of farm subsidies, support provided by the federal government.

Some of that support is on the chopping block.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, has proposed a $3.5 trillion budget for 2012. It would reduce U.S. Department of Agriculture farm subsidies by $30 billion during the next 10 years, 20 percent of the $150 billion of expected spending in that time period.

The cuts would come from direct payments, which are based on historical production and are given to farmers regardless of how much they grow or what they sell it for.

The few commodity-producing farms remaining in Routt County receive relatively little federal assistance, but a reduction in farm subsidies next year still would affect their livelihoods.

“It would hurt our operation,” Frentress said. “There were years we couldn’t stay in business without the farm subsidies.”

Less impact

The government provides several types of farm subsidies. They are provided for disaster relief and conservation. The subsidies proposed to be cut, direct payments, support commodity production.

For example, Frentress received $19,175 for his crops in 2009, according to the Farm Subsidy Database created by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit group that promotes “health-protective and subsidy-shifting” policy.

Frentress grows wheat, barley, alfalfa and safflower on about 8,000 acres west of Hayden on land that has been in his family since the late 1800s.

From 1995 to 2009, Frentress received nearly $764,000 in farm subsidies. By comparison, The Nature Conservancy received more than $4.6 million in total subsidies during that time.

Those include payments for participating in Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to plant grass for soil stabilization and erosion control. It also protects the land and provides wildlife habitats. Last year, Frentress also received $50,000 in conservation subsidies.

Local farmers’ participation in the conservation program is part of the reason few remain in the county, Routt County Extension Agent CJ Mucklow said. He said the county’s distance from where crops are sold also has contributed to the decline.

Mucklow said farm subsidies are a small part of the county’s agriculture economy.

According to the Farm Subsidy Database, Routt County received more than $19 million in all subsidies from 1995 to 2009, placing it 33rd among Colorado’s 64 counties. By comparison, Kit Carson County received more than $481 million during that time.

Colorado ranked 21st in subsidies, receiving more than $4.5 billion. That’s nearly one-fifth of the more than $23 billion received from 1995 to 2009 by Texas, the state that had the most farm subsidies.

Because the county and state are less reliant on federal support, the impacts of cuts wouldn’t be as great as in other commodity-producing areas, said Marsha Daughenbaugh, executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance.

Differing opinions

Daughenbaugh, who also is a member of Colorado’s Farm Service Agency committee that administers the federal farm subsidies, said they were created to keep farmers’ revenue streams consistent.

In his budget plan, Ryan said that has changed. He said the “record-breaking prosperity” of American farmers should be celebrated.

“But it also calls for a re-examination of federal agricultural programs that spend billions each year, to ensure that taxpayers aren’t funding support for a sector that is more than capable of thriving on its own,” Ryan stated in his report.

Daughenbaugh disagreed. Despite good prices that in some cases are the highest in decades, she said it’s not necessarily a good idea to cut farm subsidies.

“Historically, they’ve always been volatile,” she said about prices. “They go up and down. The subsidies were designed to help even that out. I think there are too many outside forces that play into the prices that a farmer or rancher are going to get for their product.”

The Denver-based Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, an advocacy group for the state’s farmers, is taking a different approach to the proposed subsidy cuts.

Leland Swenson, the group’s executive vice president, said the union doesn’t think the farm subsidy program should be structured to support farmers when prices are good, but when they’re low. He said the Farmers Union would work with federal lawmakers to reallocate funds and make them available to farmers for crop insurance and disaster relief.

Swenson said the Farmers Union thinks that would better protect farmers’ livelihoods by helping them combat issues beyond their control, such as weather, to maintain the country’s food production system for consumers.

He added that of the funding in the farm bill, 67 cents of every dollar supports nutrition programs, such as the National School Lunch Program, which provides meals to low-income students for free or at a reduced cost.

“When we talk about farm subsidies and what can be reduced there, it’s a small percentage of what’s in the farm bill,” he said.

Tough business

In Steamboat farmer Mike Hogue’s opinion, direct payment subsidies shouldn’t be cut partly because they’re a small percentage of the farm bill and federal budget.

He said in an email that farm products are used to make food, fiber and shelter, what he called “fundamental ingredients needed to exist.” If they weren’t produced in the United States, Hogue said the country would import them, comparing it the country’s dependence on foreign oil.

Hogue operates on 1,500 acres between Steamboat and Milner. Because only 100 acres of that is used for wheat production, he won’t benefit from farm subsidies next year, but he argued for their importance.

“As a deficit-reduction measure, eliminating farm payments would not have much effect as farm program payments only make up three-tenths of 1 percent of the federal budget,” he said. “Three-tenths of 1 percent is pretty cheap for Americans who enjoy the safest, most abundant food supply in the world.”

Frentress said he wouldn’t be opposed to subsidies for large corporate farms being cut.

According to the Farm Subsidy Database, 62 percent of the country’s farmers don’t receive subsidies. It indicated that the top 10 percent received 74 percent of all subsidies between 1995 and 2009.

Frentress depends on the subsidies he receives for a farm that also includes some cattle and a hunting operation. He said it’s a tough business.

“There’s just not much money in it,” he said. “The economics are so tight. You have to get fairly large. There’s about three of us who make the majority of our money from wheat farming left in Routt.”

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com


beentheredonethat 6 years ago

i bet his grandfather and great grandfather didn't receive subsidies.


ybul 6 years ago

New Zealand went through the same economic malaise we are going through today in the early 90s and they realized they needed to get rid of their agricultural subsidies. Today they have a very vibrant agricultural economy.

The problem with the subsidies is that they are distorting the market. In reality agriculture is energy production, and one must consider the amount of energy inputs versus outputs. Commodity farm production requires lots of inputs to work. If one looks at the energy in out of corn, wheat or other production because of the need to fertilize from growing food on the same acreage every year. The distortion of market forces causes poor energy input versus output as the profitability of the farm results from government subsidies not from a real analysis of energy in/out - or accounting of the costs associated with business.

The need for subsidies in the past resulting for the US dollars valuation on the world markets has fallen as such corn, wheat and other commodity crops have risen and the need to support them has faded. A crop insurance program could be justified, but payments to encourage maximum production of the commodities is not simply keeping farms afloat it is causing health problems as our diets are becoming centered around these grains, which is not what we evolved eating.


kathy foos 6 years ago

The subsidies should stay in place for these farmers,they should be considered over the large farmers for retaining them.We need the farmers everywhere,but the plains farmers have shipping handy for every area.I don't know how our Routt county farmers get the product to market,but it has to be much more expensive from this area and farming needs to be encouraged.


ybul 6 years ago


Given that the grain elevator in Craig was bought out by an energy company so they can ship in their supplies by rail, the ability of Fentress to continue is uncertain, imo.. Probably would take an effort by the region to build some storage and production facility to use the grain locally as the shipping costs will make the reality of grain production in the area difficult as the rail option will be disappearing.

Of course we could have Soro's build another one so he can continuing to consolidate the distribution of ag products. The cheap money afforded by the printing of money via stocks and the artificially low rates handed out by banks to the big boys are the real problem and the grain price supports are simply trying to treat the symptom.

We need to stop treating symptoms of problems and start looking for the root problem and address them.


Scott Wedel 6 years ago

yvb, I'd say the insidious nature is that a program started when there was the real problem of the Dust Bowl and a contributing factor was vacant land without grass then there was a reason for paying people to grow. Remember BLM land was basically for the taking if someone wanted to take it and improve it in the 1930s.

But how a program that made sense when the nation had a fraction of current population is still operating today is the true example of the insidious nature of government programs. There was once a need and now despite the need is gone, the program still exists.


kathy foos 6 years ago

The small farmers would seem to be at risk ,its such a vital business to the wellfare of the planet.Once these food producing people go out of business ,it would be very hard to set up their operations again,would they be gone forever?We need all the food this frozen valley can produce,and we should make sure that if they are in trouble ,that they get help.Maybe even expand and encourage more food production.Please remember how much fuel that it takes to produce this food.That could hurt them bad .The equipment that they need is so expensive.This article was informative,but I dont think it projects any actual costs that can vary and effect profits.It all depends on weather and lots of other factors.Its almost like gambling,but it is our food.Also ,Ill bet they must irrigate and depend on the pure underground water.Hopefully the gas frackers dont ruin their water.Just because not many people grow food in this county,doesnt mean it isnt a top priority thing(it should be).This county has some of the best wheat grown anywhere and should be proud of it.


Jeremy Johnston 5 years, 12 months ago

While it may seem important to subsidize commodity crops, especially here in weather prone no mans land, the cutting of such programs could be helpful in several ways.

First it would force farmers to diversify in order to survive. Mono-culture farms are much more prone to disaster. Were as diverse multi-crop farms have other crops to fall back on if one or another fails. Mono-cultures also require intensive fertilization and pest management. Diverse farms are much easier to manage organically.

Secondly it would necessitate the development of a more comprehensive local food infrastructure. Transportation costs are one of our farmers' biggest profit pitfalls. If we could mill and market grains locally, our farmer wouldn't be dependent on market price and subsidies to make ends meet. We certainly use enough flour to support a local mill. This would place the farmer much closer to the retail dollar, increasing their profit share.

It would also put emphasis on producing more non-commodity crops such as vegetables. As has been stated, processed grain based food like substances are causing severe health problems. This county has a rich agricultural history of producing exceptional produce. We have the water, we have the soil, let's use it.

Finally by making it unprofitable for the big boys to continue to mass produce the big three (corn, wheat, and soy). It will force all of these ideas on the agricultural community as a whole. Diversifying farm lands, forcing local infrastructures, and emphasizing whole food production nationwide, could be a good start at fixing our economy, and health care issues, reducing our carbon footprint, and stopping the pouring of toxic chemicals into our waterways.


seeuski 5 years, 12 months ago

Nice drill, I might bid on it at the auction. Just lightening the mood as all here mostly are in agreement, maybe a pow-wow with yvb and his peace pipe, or a photo of the leaf. Got your sarcasm yvb, loved it.

Kinda on this subject. http://www.healthiertalk.com/us-meat-contaminated-deadly-superbug-3805

Surely something ybul is aware of.


Scott Ford 5 years, 12 months ago

Here is a fun fact that has a lot of irony associated with it. The agricultural subsidies being discussed are paid by USDA. In 2008 $1,082,259 were paid to Routt County farmer/ranchers.

Here is the breakdown by subsidy program: Conservation Reserve Program = $609,793 Disaster Payments = $189,972 Wheat Subsidies = $157,161 Livestock Subsidies = $100,086 Barley Subsidies = $25,247

During this same period, the USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) paid out $279,000. This simply means that farm/ranch subsidies from the USDA were over 3.5 times greater than food stamp payouts in Routt County.

To add to the irony of the situation under the food stamp program there are all sorts of restrictions placed on the recipient regarding what the funds can be used to purchase. Under the farm subsidy funds there are no restrictions. The recipient of these funds can go to Hawaii or buy a new truck and for some with the amount that is being received they can do both.


ybul 5 years, 12 months ago

Print Jeremy's comment entirely! Right on all counts and much too the dismay of those who think we need to subsidize the industry to keep it alive the subsidies are probably causing more harm on more fronts than it is seeking to help.

Unintended consequences are killing us, stop the madness!


ybul 5 years, 12 months ago

Scott another wonderful government program is that of unemployment insurance. Those who employ people pay a tax on those they employ. Those who use technology to reduce the need for people pay no unemployment taxes.


Scott Ford 5 years, 12 months ago

Hi Ybul - For this very reason unemployment insurance should be a "tax/premium" paid for by the employee and not entirely by the employer. Having the employer pay all of it creates yet another incentive not to hire. As UI rates are increasing it is going to make owners think twice before adding additional staff.



ybul 5 years, 12 months ago

Nope, their should be a sales tax on all goods and services sold. This way, products made in other countries or robots pay their fair share also, if you are going to have this program. Other countries are paying companies to bring white collar jobs there and we tax job creators here.


pitpoodle 5 years, 12 months ago

Cut the subsidies, now. No ybul, no sales tax on services sold - it will just increase the amounts paid "under the table" as cash. Although that idea doesn't break my heart.


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