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Farm bill proposal kinder to environment, consumers

Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., no stranger to being on the short end of farm legislative debates, has introduced the first in what is expected to be a long line of proposals for the 2007 farm bill.

Kind, who authored an amendment that would have shifted $19 billion from farm program to conservation program payments in the 2002 farm bill, calls his measure the Healthy Farms, Foods and Fuels Act, H.R. 6064. (The House defeated the 2002 farm bill amendment by a vote of 226-200.)

He told the Associated Press he does not expect his bill to pass Congress, but he wants it to be a conversation starter for the next farm bill, which the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are expected to begin writing next spring.

Although his current bill does not call for cuts in farm program payments, he said he expects those to be a major issue in the farm bill debate.

“It’s pretty tough to justify the basis for a lot of these subsidies that are going out that are benefiting a few, but very large commodity producers at the expense of everything else that should be contained in a farm bill,” Kind said.

Specifically, Kind’s bill, which had 27 co-sponsors at last count, would:

– Increase from $200 million to $2 billion the annual loan guarantees for renewable energy development on farms.

– Expand programs that provide local, healthy food choices to school children and dramatically expand coupon programs that allow elderly and low income Americans to shop at farmer’s markets.

– Double incentives to $2 billion a year for farmers and ranchers to protect drinking supplies and make other environmental improvements.

– Provide funding to restore nearly 3 million acres of wetlands.

– Provide funding to protect 6 million acres of farm and ranch land from urban sprawl.

A member of Kind’s staff said the bill would increase conservation spending from $4 billion a year to $7 billion a year. The Congressional Budget Office is studying the bill and will issue an analysis of its proposal later.

While the bill does not call for cuts in commodity programs, Kind said he would prefer to see changes in commodity payments. “It’s certainly the 800-pound gorilla in the next farm bill,” he noted.

Environmental and rural development groups had good things to say about the bill.

“Today, most farm spending subsidizes a handful of large farmers in a handful of states,” said a statement prepared by Environmental Defense, a Washington environmental group, that accompanied an e-mail announcing the Kind bill’s introduction.

“Farmers in just 25 congressional districts collected more than half of all farm spending over the last decade. More than 90 percent of America’s farmers get little or no benefit from farm programs and policies created during the New Deal.”

The statement said half of all farm spending subsidizes the income of America’s largest farming and provides little benefit to consumers or the environment.

“Although federal farm policy has often been long on the rhetoric of environmental partnerships and cooperative conservation initiatives, it has been short on follow-through,” said Scott Faber, farm policy campaign director for Environmental Defense.

“Under current law, applications of three out of four farmers to participate in federal environmental cost-sharing programs are rejected by USDA because of chronically misplaced spending priorities and the persistent lack of adequate funding. It’s time to hold federal policy makers accountable for this failure.”

Only a handful of the Kind bill’s co-sponsors are from cotton and rice states. They include Reps. Sam Farr, D-Calif.; Jim Kolbe, D-Ariz.; Grace Napolitano, D-Calif.; David Price, D-N.C.; and Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif.

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