Iowa Public Television


Farm Workers Earnings

posted on May 10, 2002

Much of the money contained in the farm bill is earmarked to subsidize commodity producers. Proponents insist the subsidies are needed. Modern agriculture requires huge capital outlays but provides thin profit margins.

To be sure the subsidies encourage farmers to produce more than the market can absorb. But the government dollars form the foundation for an agri-industrial complex that makes the U.S. a powerful competitor in world markets, and say proponents provides cheap food domestically.

Indeed champions of so-called "production agriculture" are fond of pointing out that most of the cost of retail food is attributable to off-farm expenses.


Earl Butz, former Secretary of Agriculture: "So I'll take out the farmers share. That's the heel and one slice."

For years former agriculture secretary Earl Butz employed a loaf of bread to illustrate how little of the retail dollar was captured by farmers.

It was an effective visual aid, and popular with farmers and farm state lawmakers. But the Butz demonstration didn't address how little many of the so-called middlemen realize from the retail cost of a product.

While the total labor component of the final cost may well be considerably more than the farmer's, individual workers on America's most dangerous production lines and most inhospitable fields take home far less.

According to Department of Labor three-fourths of the nation's farm workers earn less than 10-thosuand dollars a year, fewer than half own a vehicle, and despite the fact 61 percent live below the poverty line compared to half ten years ago, few use social programs.


Tags: agriculture Earl Butz immigration jobs news U.S. Secretary of Agriculture