Three Associated Press reporters, examining the largest disaster-relief program in U.S. history, analyzed thousands of drought-aid reports from 14 selected states in the course of seven months.
Using a computer database, they matched rainfall data and drought payments in all counties in those states. After selecting 120 counties to study further, the AP then used the Freedom of Information Act to request those counties’ Farm Entitlement Reports, summaries of all farms’ participation in the program.
These reports from the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service show what crops were involved, how large the losses were, which farmers or corporations were paid and how much relief aid was paid.
Some counties had more than 1,000 Farm Entitlement Reports shipped to the AP in boxes. A few distributed aid to only one or two farmers. In all, more than 12,000 farm reports were examined.
The ASCS records are not centralized, so reporters traveled to 22 county offices in eight states to examine the more detailed drought-program files of 346 farmers, also available under the Freedom of Information Act. Most of the data never leaves the county office, where payment checks are written.
In addition, the AP interviewed 93 farmers who participated in the program and agriculture experts from 21 states.