December 5, 2021

No, the government isn’t paying farmers to destroy their crops

The Farm Bureau, the USDA and several farmers popular on social media all say the government is not paying farmers to destroy crops.

Numerous viewers have sent VERIFY videos about farmers claiming the federal government is paying them to destroy their crops, or withholding subsidies until they destroy their crops.

Some farmers posted viral videos on TikTok and YouTube that claim the USDA sent them a letter telling them to destroy their crops. Many of those videos were later edited together in a viral Facebook video that claims the government is trying to create a food shortage.

Food shortage videos

Posted by Scott Stephenson on Tuesday, August 17, 2021

THE QUESTION

Is the federal government paying farmers to destroy their crops?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, the government is not paying farmers to destroy crops or withholding money from them until they do so. The rumor started as a social media joke.

No program like that exists, and farmers do not receive subsidies for planting in the first place.

WHAT WE FOUND

A spokesperson for the American Farm Bureau Federation told VERIFY in an email that the government is not telling farmers to destroy crops and that the claim originated from a series of joke videos posted to TikTok in July. He called it a “non-issue.”

A USDA spokesperson said there isn’t a federal program sending out letters encouraging farmers to destroy crops. “These rumors are not true,” the spokesperson told VERIFY in an email.

“I’ve seen people perpetuate this claim in the past,” said Trent Loos, a Nebraska rancher whose family has been in the farming industry since 1832. “But it really accelerated in the past two months.”

Loos, who raises cattle, was one of several people from the agriculture industry to debunk the misinformation on social media with a video he posted to Facebook. 

Peterson Farm Brothers, a trio of siblings who run a family farm and own a popular Facebook page, also said in their own video the rumor wasn’t true. 

Tony Reed, who runs a popular farming TikTok account called @growincorn2020, explained in July that the videos spreading the rumor, including one of his own, were jokes and not based on fact. 

Zach Richert, who posted a YouTube video that includes the rumor in the title, admits a little more than a minute into his video that he is joking and says the rumor is false as far as he is aware.

Farmers aren’t being denied subsidies for not following through with an order to destroy crops, either. That’s because, Loos explained, farmers don’t get subsidies to grow crops in the first place.

“Farmers are not paid a subsidy to grow crops,” Loos said. The main subsidy farmers have access to, Loos said, is for a program a farmer can apply to participate in that pays a farmer to not grow crops on environmentally sensitive land.

The Conservation Reserve Program is a land conservation program that has existed since the 1980s, according to the USDA. The federal government essentially “rents” the land from a farmer for 10-15 years at a time and the farmer agrees not to plant crops on that land for that time. The Biden Administration made various updates to the CRP earlier this year, but it remains a voluntary program as it always has been.

Loos explained the CRP is something that a farmer has to apply for and must prove that the land is at high risk of serious erosion. The only reason the CRP would force a farmer to destroy a crop is if the farmer planted on land they’ve already enrolled in the CRP and agreed to not plant on, Loos said.

Loos said another reason a farmer might need to destroy a crop is if a farmer cashes in on crop insurance after the crop was damaged by something, such as a hailstorm. Since the farmer already claimed the insurance for the damaged crop, they would have to destroy whatever remains of it.

Finally, some crop production actually calls for crop destruction as part of the process. Dr. Margaret Smith, a professor of plant science and breeding at Cornell University, explained that corn is grown in rows of pollen-producing and seed-producing plants in the production of hybrid corn seeds. Once the pollen-producing row, referred to as the “male” corn plants, has pollinated the corn meant for seed production, the male corn is often destroyed before harvesting.

“So once the field has pollinated, sorry to say those plants that are serving as males are pretty useless,” Dr. Smith said. “And in fact, they are a bit of a risk because their ears could get mixed in and they would not be the right cross.”

This style of hybrid corn seed production was what the farmer from the YouTube video was doing and then explained soon after revealing he was joking about the government telling him to destroy the corn rows.

SOURCE OF MISINFORMATION

A group of farmers on TikTok first began to make joke videos about destroying their crops soon after a viral TikTok from May with more than 100,000 likes claimed the government would deny farmers subsidies if they didn’t destroy their crops to create a food shortage

That misinformation gained momentum in August when a video splicing the May food shortage video with the later joke videos from farmers began to spread around Facebook. That eight-minute-long video has been shared at least 39,000 times, but other versions of the video are also getting thousands of shares.

The Facebook video includes a clip of a now-deleted Tony Reed (@growincorn2020 on TikTok) video, who later clarified in a follow-up video that the original was a joke. It also includes a clip from another popular TikTok farmer’s video, Timmy K. (@neflyinfarmer on TikTok). 

While the Timmy K. video doesn’t directly say anywhere in the video that it’s a joke, he says in several replies to comments that the video isn’t serious.

The viral Facebook video specifically includes the part of Timmy K.’s video where he shows a “binder on how to properly destroy your crops” and then a document from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality that he uses to showcase “it’s on government paper.”

But that exact document can be downloaded online and is for land application training, not crop destruction.

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