08/08/2013 05:17 pm ET Updated Oct 08, 2013

Musings of a Federally Subsidized Farmer

At first blush, it may seem like I have nothing in common with a single mother living in the inner city trying to feed her family with food stamps. After all, I'm a buffalo rancher in South Dakota who also writes books on the side. But the truth is that I, like most people involved in agriculture, have more in common with those who some politicians characterize as "welfare queens."

On my 3,200 acre ranch near Rapid City we buy subsidized disaster insurance, benefit from an antiquated system of payments based on the crops that the ranch used to produce (even though we no longer plant any crops), participate in conservation programs, and graze our buffalo on federal land at prices far below their market value. Applying for these subsidies is a bureaucratic nightmare that the big guys have attorneys and accountants to do. Most of us little guys muddle through and really don't understand much of it. Even though these subsidies were devised to maintain America's strength by keeping families on the land, I don't like accepting them. I know that everyone is strapped right now and I'm uncomfortable for having a way to "hold things together" when other people have no such safety net.

The subsidies I receive are 20% of the Farm Bill (the one Congress is still debating) and when any farmer or rancher applies for these programs there is a form that they must fill out called the CCC-933. The complete name of the form is the Average Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) Certification and Consent to Disclosure of Tax Information. I always get a kick out of Part A where it asks if your average adjusted gross income is over $1,000,000. The assumption is that if you make that much money, you don't need subsidies. Well, no kidding! I know a lot of farmers but I don't know a single one who has an adjusted gross income anywhere near a million dollars. If fact, the adjusted gross income for the average farmer is more like $30,000. Who are these "farmers" who are pulling down over a million a year? Are they applying for these subsidies to "hold things together" or to take the taxpayers to the cleaners?

And why are the Republicans lobbying to raise the allowable limit even higher than a million a year? Apparently there are some "farmers" who make more than a million a year and still want government subsidies. In fact, Republicans and others are threatening to torpedo the other 80% of the Farm Bill - SNAP - if the limit is not raised.

SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, represents about $80 billion dollars of the $100 billion dollar bill. That is a lot of money to spend on poor people and perhaps should be trimmed. But at least it goes to people who really are trying "hold things together."