The coronavirus pandemic affected the U.S. agriculture industry in many ways over the past year and a half. And even though much of the country is finally “reopening” thanks to the vaccine, recently, there have been rumors that the government is paying farmers to destroy their crops — but those are really just TikTok conspiracy theories.
The government is far more invested in agriculture than you realize.
In the U.S. (and many other countries), the agriculture industry would essentially collapse without the government, as the government uses taxpayer money to give billions of dollars in subsidies to farmers every year.
Estimates regarding the exact amount of agricultural subsidies given to U.S. farmers vary, but according to Meatonomics in 2016, the U.S. government gives about $38 billion in subsidies to meat and dairy farmers every year, but only about $17 million to crop farmers.
And in December 2020, the U.S. government announced that farm income across the country in 2020 was the highest it had been since 2013. That’s because the federal government gave the highest payments to farmers in history: $46.5 billion, as reported by Successful Farming.
Many farmers had to destroy crops in the beginning of the pandemic.
Early in the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., reduced demand for bulk orders of dairy products had the dairy industry pouring raw, unpasteurized milk down drains and dumping it outdoors. At the same time, many slaughterhouses shut down due to COVID outbreaks, which forced a lot of farms to “depopulate” their livestock, aka kill the animals (by gunshot or CO2) and discard their bodies.
Additionally, early in the pandemic, fruit and vegetable farmers were essentially forced to trash crops (including top berry manufacturer Driscolls), even though food banks were in serious need of food, because the government refused to give financial assistance to make the donations happen.
And around the same time, one crop farmer told The Wall Street Journal that with the supply chain in disarray, rather than let his crops die in the field, he chose to destroy them. “It’s a mental thing, you don’t want to see your crop rot and suffer,” he told the newspaper.
Is the government really paying farmers to destroy crops?
Basically, farmers are not eligible for government subsidies if they are not actively raising animals or growing crops — so it’s more profitable for them to continue business as usual, but trash berries, milk, and even animals instead.
So no, the government is not forcing farmers to destroy crops or animals. However, the current agricultural system makes it so that many farmers have no other choice but to destroy their product, otherwise they will lose money.
As per Time, the same thing happened during the Great Depression — so this unjust system has clearly been going on for a while.
TikTok conspiracy theorists are convincing people that the government is demanding farmers destroy crops.
That said, rumors that the government is demanding farmers to destroy their crops in exchange for payment have been circulating recently, thanks to a few TikToks on the topic.
For instance, TikTok creator and farmer, @neflyinfarmer, posted a video earlier this month showing a letter and binders that the USDA allegedly sent him, ordering him to destroy his crops. But when he shows the USDA letterhead, it’s marked January 2018 — a fact that many users pointed out in the comments, calling the creator out for fake news. Even though the video spread misinformation, as it was viewed nearly 700,000 times, fortunately, the creator does make it clear in the comments that he was joking.
Another TikTok, posted by @shanehattander on May 18, is much more plainly a conspiracy. He claims that the federal government will not give farmers subsidies if they refuse to destroy their crops. “They’re trying to create a food shortage,” he tells the camera. “We’ve got eight months to create our own food supply or we’re probably going to be facing mass starvation. Good luck.”
Fear not: there’s no reason to worry about a food shortage in the U.S. — the USDA reports that there are not currently any food shortages in the country. That said, the USDA did not immediately respond to Green Matters’ request for comment on these conspiracies.