The farm bill is all about cheddar and cabbage.

The last time Congress passed a farm bill was 2008. Not exactly a triumph of thoughtful politics, it was loaded with subsidies and carve-outs. (This year’s farm bill, now moving through Congress, has been pulled between between removing  and worsening those giveaways.)

There’s a reason why that 2008 bill heavily favored the status quo: the status quo invested heavily in that outcome. A new report from Food and Water Watch outlines exactly how much was spent and by whom to lobby for the final bill.

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The 2008 Farm Bill lobbying campaign ranked among the most well-financed legislative fights of the past decade. More than 1,000 companies, trade associations and other groups spent an estimated $173.5 million lobbying on just the 2008 Farm Bill, according to a Food & Water Watch analysis of data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. (See Table 1.) During every day that the 100th Congress was in session in 2007 and 2008, special interests spent an average of $539,000 lobbying on issues covered by the Farm Bill. …

Agribusiness, commodity trade associations, food manufacturers and other interests all pushed to get a big slice of the Farm Bill pie. The $173.5 million lobbying frenzy ranked alongside the Center for Public Integrity’s $120 million estimate for health care reform lobbying and the Center for Responsive Politics’ $250 million estimate for lobbying on the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill.

The table above right outlines how lobbying money broke down by issue area. It’s particularly interesting to note that energy was the second-largest issue area on which members of Congress were lobbied. Food and Water Watch also broke out the issues that comprised energy lobbying, as below.

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What’s most remarkable about this is that the battle wasn’t between biodiesel and ethanol; rather, it was between the players that were already established: ethanol and fossil fuels.

The 2012 (or 2013? 2014?) farm bill will be just as influenced by lobbyists, if not more so. To date, for the 2011-2012 congressional session, agribusiness interests have spent $124 million on lobbying — not all of it on the farm bill, mind you, but certainly a large amount. (They’ve also spent $32 million supporting congressional campaigns, including $9 million on candidates challenging sitting members.)

Today, we look at the figures from 2008 with shock. $539,000 a day? In the future, we’ll undoubtedly consider the amount quaint.