Californiaâs top subsidy recipient from 2003 to 2005, Bowles, 88, of San Francisco, collected the $1.2 million in mostly cotton payments through her familyâs 6,000-acre farm, the Bowles Farming Co., in Los Banos (Merced County). She could not be reached for comment.
Another family member, George âCorkyâ Bowles, who died in 2005, collected $1.19 million over the same period. George Bowles once ran the farm but lived on Telegraph Hill. A collector of rare books and 18th century English porcelain, he served as a director of the San Francisco Opera and a trustee of the Fine Arts Museums.
The farm is run by Phillip Bowles in San Francisco. Phillip Bowles was on vacation Tuesday and could not be reached. He told KGO television last week that heâs no fan of subsidies, but if big cotton growers in Texas get them, so should he.
âMany of these businesses are getting 20 to 30 to sometimes 40 percent of their gross revenues directly from the government,â Phillip Bowles told KGO. âI donât have a good explanation for that. Somebody else might, but it beats me.â
Economists say they can find no rationale for the subsidies, which started in 1933 as temporary aid for small farmers devastated by the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Then, a quarter of Americans lived on farms. Today, less than 1 percent do â so few that the Census Bureau quit counting.
âThe programs are just outdated,â said Daniel Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center and a leading farm economist. âNo one can think of a legitimate reason why we have these farm programs for a handful of crops in the United States.
âIf the best the committee could do is say these payments are to help people in need, and weâre going to define for farm legislation that somebodyâs in need if the family makes $2 million a year â a million for the husband and a million for the wife â thatâs a little strange. If these are really welfare programs for the needy, we donât normally cut those off at $1 million. Itâs more like $20,000.â