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House committee compromises on payment rules

The House Agriculture Committee voted to end conservation and farm program payments for farmers with adjusted gross incomes of more than $1 million and bar all producers from receiving payments for more than one farm entity.

The new payment limits rules are among a long list of changes approved for the committee’s version of the 2007 farm bill that left the basic structure of the legislation largely in tact.

Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, who has said he favored using the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 as a base for the new law Congress is scheduled to pass before Sept. 30, said the committee bill contains some new features for farmers left out of previous bills.

“This farm bill provides strong programs that will help American agriculture meet the 21st Century needs of the United States and the world with a safe, stable food supply, nutrition assistance, environmental benefits and renewable energy products,” said Peterson, a Democrat from Minnesota.

“We have incorporated some new ideas and important reforms in this farm bill, focusing farm program benefits so they get to real farmers and boosting investment in programs that help those who haven’t received benefits through the farm bill.”

The new farm bill, which is expected to go to the House floor before the scheduled Aug. 4 recess, would also provide farmers with a choice of safety net programs: either the traditional, price-based counter-cyclical payment or the revenue-based CCP supported by the National Corn Growers Association and USDA.

The bill would also provide for the first time more than $1.6 billion “to strengthen and support the fruit and vegetable industry in the United States.”

The committee’s efforts to focus farm program benefits do not go far enough to suit environmental and other interest groups such as the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the Environmental Working Group that have been demanding farm bill reforms that would eliminate “big payments to wealthy farmers.”

EWG President Ken Cook complained that the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of savings of $45 million per year for the House ag committee new payment limit amount to no savings at all.

“At the level of these savings, it is obvious that Mr. Peterson’s proposal will have no effect on the flow of taxpayer funds to the largest, wealthiest subsidized farms in the country, and once again leave less for people and priorities that have gone begging for farm bill support year after year,” said Cook.

The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition noted the committee bill would increase the current limit on direct and counter-cyclical payments from $210,000 to $250,000 a year and remove any cap on marketing loan gains while focusing attention on a means test for adjusted gross income.

“The House should not be fooled by watching the hand that goes after millionaires, while missing the hand with the extra $40,000 in goodies for the mega farms,” said the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s Ferd Hoefner. “Bribing mega farms in order to be allowed to try to catch a few millionaires is a raw deal.”

Farm-state members such as Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said the change in payment limit rules reflects the reality commercial, row-crop farmers face in the debate over the 2007 law.

“We were able to work with commodity groups and their leadership to come up with a compromise on this issue,” he said. “(House) Speaker Pelosi says that she will back this bill in its current form. It is important to have the leadership behind us as we take the farm bill to the House floor.”

The ag committee also adopted an amendment barring the closing of any county field office of the Farm Service Agency, the Rural Development Agency or the Natural Resources Conservation Service for one year after passage of the new farm bill.


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