Big U.S. aid goes to big agribusiness


While American taxpayers await an accounting on the billions sent to the Gulf Coast to clean up Katrina’s devastation, USDA already knows the tab for four emergency programs hastily designed “to further reduce stress on the grain transportation system” caused by the storm.
The amount was $22.7 million. And, according to published data (at, USDA also knows where most of the loot went.
A cool $19.7 million of the federal aid, or 87 percent, to assist grain merchandisers and farmers along Katrina-slowed Midwestern waterways slipped into the deep, soft pockets of Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland and Louis Dreyfus, three of the world’s largest grain merchandisers.
The program, announced by Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns last Sept. 20, had four components to address the Katrina-crunched grain market.
All were tied to slowing or reversing the flow of grain along an already backed-up, drought-pinched Mississippi River system.
The first was a “temporary incentive” – known elsewhere as cash – “to assist immediate movement of some 140 barges of damaged corn out of New Orleans to up-river locations.”
Once there, the barges would be unloaded to then “continue up the river to load and begin moving new-crop commodities.”
Under this part of the program, Cargill, the giant multi-national that earned $2.1 billion on 2005 sales of $71.1 billion, was paid $7.2 million to move 92 barges back upriver.
Louis Dreyfus, another $20+ billion-a-year global grain player, received $2.03 million to, as Johanns hopefully noted Sept. 20, “relieve pressure on farmers and related businesses” by moving 28 barges back whence they came.
The second part of the Katrina program, “barge unloading of damaged commodities,” delivered a second helping of cash to Cargill – another $960,985.92, according to USDA stats.
The emergency plan also included a “freight differential” – again, cash – “to reduce stress on the Central Gulf transportation and handling system


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children.