If you find the Farm Bill confusing, don’t worry. You’re in the majority!
The Farm Bill is comprehensive legislation that sets agriculture and food policy in the U.S. every five years. The entire content of the Farm Bill goes far beyond the scope of this website and actually barely mentions GMOs among hundreds of pages of legislative text. That said, the types of questions you’re asking are pretty common. Here are some clarifications.
The federal government does not pay farmers to grow GMOs. In general, there are two main types of agriculture subsidies. First, the federal government helps farmers manage risk by, for example, providing disaster assistance, smoothing production or market volatility, and paying for some of the cost of crop insurance. This type of aid to farmers can be structured in many different ways, but generally it aims to make sure agriculture remains financially viable across the U.S. The second main way that the federal government helps farmers is by providing financial incentives to adopt conservation practices or invest in projects that improve the environment.
To the limited extent that the federal government encourages any particular method of agriculture production, current farm policy actually provides incentives for farmers not to use GMOs by funding marketing programs such as the National Organic Standard.
In fact, rather than subsidize agriculture biotechnology, current regulatory policy effectively acts like a tax by dramatically increasing the cost of innovation. It takes hundreds of millions of dollars and several years to develop and get regulatory approval for new GMO seeds. While some regulatory requirements are sensible, the cost of many requirements have escalated in recent years and regulatory decisions have been held up by legal challenges without scientific or economic justification. These excessive regulatory burdens make it very risky and costly to invest in new beneficial technologies. Those costs then get passed on to farmers and consumers who are denied access to beneficial GMOs or end up paying more than they otherwise would for quality seeds and food.
So, while there are many opportunities to improve farm policy and there are very robust ongoing debates about reform, rest assured, your and my tax dollars are not lining the pockets of biotech companies or GMO growers. It might surprise you even more to learn that GMOs are actually very likely saving taxpayer money. GMO crops are often more healthy and vigorous than conventional crops and therefore better able to resist environmental stress. Had it not been for GMOs, for instance, the 2012 drought that affected crop production in much of the U.S. Midwest would have likely been more severe. That would have cost the federal government more in aid to farmers and increased food prices for consumers.
As for the price at which farmers sell their crops, it depends on the market. For example, we negotiate contracts for some of the crops we grow on our farm, such as vegetable seed, while other crops we sell on the open commodity market, such as wheat. U.S. agriculture is very diverse, but regardless of the crop, farmers still do business under the same legal framework and market principles as any other industry.