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1,054 farm groups urge override of farm bill veto

Any doubts that farm organizations supported the 2008 farm bill conference report were laid aside Wednesday when more than 1,000 of them sent a letter to the House and Senate urging them to override the president’s veto.

The groups, led by the National Farmers Union, also mounted a massive telephone and e-mail campaign that left no doubt where the majority of the nation’s farmers stood on the conference report, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008.

The House subsequently voted to override the veto by a vote of 318-106. Because of a mistake in the enrollment process, the House was scheduled to vote on the bill again later today and on the bill’s Trade and Food Aid Title, which was inadvertently omitted from the bill sent to the president on May 20.

Senate action on the trade title and the full bill were also expected later today.

The National Farm Union’s Tom Buis, who was credited by House leaders with being one of the prime behind-the-scene movers on the farm bill in a press conference May 15, summed up the feeling of most farm organizations.

“There is widespread support for the farm bill, both across this great nation and in Congress as we saw in last week’s super-majority votes,” he said. “While it is disappointing to see the president’s veto, we are hopeful members of Congress will listen to their constituents and override this veto.”

The 1,054-group coalition that signed the May 21 letter far surpassed the record 557 groups that called on Congress to pass the farm bill the week of May 12. The coalition represented farm, conservation, commodity, specialty crop, nutrition, anti-hunger and consumer groups, cooperatives, religious organizations and others.

Among those writing to Congress was the National Cotton Council, whose chairman, Larry McClendon, said that while the farm bill conference report was not perfect, it retained an effective safety net.

“Although prices for some commodities are currently at attractive levels, farmers are planting at a time of unprecedented increases in input costs with no commodity policy in place,” said McClendon, a cotton producer from Marianna, Ark. “In some areas, farmers will soon harvest crops for which there is no loan program in place.

“The bill’s opponents have offered no viable alternatives after nearly two years of debate. There is simply no option but to override the veto and put predictable policy in place for farmers, lenders and rural communities.”

National Corn Grower Association leaders also supported the override, while defending the Average Crop Revenue Enhancement (ACRE) program against Bush administration attacks.

“We are gratified that the farm bill received bipartisan support from the House,” said National Corn Growers Association President Ron Litterer. “This is a bill that producers have needed for some time.”

In the letter sent by the state and national organizations, the authors said the “conference report makes significant farm policy reforms, protects the safety net for all of America’s food producers, addresses important infrastructure needs for specialty crops, increases funding to feed our nation’s poor, and enhances support for important conservation initiatives.

“This is by no means a perfect piece of legislation, and none of our organizations achieved everything we had individually requested. However, it is a carefully balanced compromise of policy priorities that has broad support among organizations representing the nation’s agriculture, conservation, and nutrition interests.”

In writing to congressional members, the NCC emphasized that the legislation includes many of the cotton industry’s recommendations and priorities: improving market orientation, competitiveness and flow to market plus providing important financial assistance to domestic textile manufacturers to spur investment and helping maintain good paying jobs in an industry competing with heavily subsidized imports.

The NCC noted the farm bill conference report contains significant reforms to payment limitations and program eligibility. The three-entity rule is eliminated and spouses are provided greater equity. Redemptions of loans with certificates no longer will be authorized and limitations on marketing loan gains are eliminated. Cumulative limits on direct and counter-cyclical payments are maintained at current levels resulting in a 50 percent reduction for some growers due to the termination of the three-entity rule.

The agreement significantly tightens an income means test first enacted in 2002, by providing that individuals with non-farm income exceeding $500,000 will be ineligible for all program benefits and those with farm income exceeding $750,000 will be ineligible for decoupled income support. These and other modifications to eligibility standards in this farm will help ensure program benefits are directed to true farmers.

“The House and Senate have worked diligently to produce sound, balanced agriculture policy,” McClendon said. “The bill is fully paid for and will not add to the deficit.


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