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Beef | What you need to know

Connie Spence
April 19, 2021

In 2020, the USDA directed $7.3 billion to cattle ranchers through direct payments, subsidies, and bailouts. Add to that $1.6 billion in subsidies to beef cattle feed production. That’s nearly $9 billion in direct and indirect subsidies to beef producers.

Meanwhile, lentil producers, whose product can be eaten as a substitute for beef in such dishes as shepherd’s pie, received $15.5 million.1 That means for every $1 that lentil growers received, cattle ranchers received more than $470 in government benefits.

That’s a solid return on investment for the National Cattleman’s Association which spent just $380,000 on lobbying2 and $795,568 in campaign contributions from 2019-2020. 3

Beef is the largest U.S. agriculture sector with revenues over $66 billion per year. 4

The beef industry releases over 5,000,000 tons of CH4 (methane) annually. That means for every ton of methane emitted by beef cattle in the U.S., beef producers got $1,652 in subsidies.5

The Numbers

Cattle: $7.3 billion in taxpayer subsidies & bailouts

Lentils: $15.5 million

  • Coronavirus Relief: $0
  • ARC/PLC: estimate based on 2019 numbers and pro-rated for 20209
  • Pulses (dry peas, chickpeas, lentils) were supported with just $30 million in federal funding overall across all farm programs where payments were reported by market segment.

AFA calls on the USDA and Congress to help farmers who want to transition to growing eco-friendly crops.


  8. Costs and Consequences: The Real Cost of Livestock Grazing on Public Land by the Center for Biological Diversity.
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