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Some environmental groups voice support for new farm bill

Not all of the country's environmental and conservation groups are opposing the farm bill conference report, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008. Some lobbied for it in the House and Senate and are urging President Bush to reconsider his veto threat.

Among those are the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and American Farmland Trust, two organizations that endorsed the farm bill conference report even though the $288-billion legislative package failed to provide all the features their members wanted.

“The coalition believes that even with its faults the new farm bill is a significant improvement over current law,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Congress clearly exceeded the two-thirds majority of votes needed to override a presidential veto.

“We urge the White House to recognize the overwhelming public support for the new farm bill, its important investments in land stewardship, nutrition, new farmers, and local and regional food systems, and ask the president sign the new bill into law so that farmers and consumers can begin to benefit from these new programs as soon as possible.”

“The conference report on the 2008 farm bill delivers important improvements over existing policy,” says Ralph Grossi, president of American Farmland Trust. “After a long effort, the bill has strong bipartisan support with real gains in subsidy reform in the new Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program, and desperately needed new funds for conservation, nutrition, and healthy, local foods.

Grossi said many farmers believe producers and consumers are not well-served by many of the farm and food policies in the current law, the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.

“For years, farmers and ranchers have told us they need better risk management tools and more effective programs to help them enhance conservation and land protection efforts,” he said. “AFT worked with Congress, the administration, and partners to make sure both farmers and consumers will be better served by the 2008 farm bill.”

Grossi concedes the ACRE revenue counter-cyclical program is not well understood. “It represents a fundamental reform in how U.S. commodity programs operate — reducing market distortions, cutting direct payments, reducing loan deficiency payment rates, and freeing up funding for other priorities.

“This is an historic change. ACRE allows producers to choose a market-oriented, risk management tool that adjusts with market prices and pays farmers only when they need it — when they suffer a real loss in revenue. Existing policies are based on politically set target prices and loan rates that distort the market.

American Farmland Trust said it expects farmers to enroll more than 50 million acres in the program over the next several years. “It is a small step for farmers but a giant leap forward for U.S. farm policy now, said Grossi, “and sets the stage for future improvements.”

Mainline farm organizations were also expressing support for the bill and urging the president to put aside his animosity to the 2002 farm bill and work with the agriculture community.

USA Rice Federation leaders said it was important for the stability of agriculture and U.S. consumers that the president sign the bill into law after House and Senate members voted overwhelmingly in support of the legislation (318-106 in the House and 81-15 in the Senate).

“The farm bill Congress passed incorporates unprecedented reforms to farm programs and yet largely maintains a strong, effective safety net for all farmers, including the nation's rice growers,” said USA Rice Federation Chairman Al Montna, a producer from California.

President Bush has threatened to veto the farm bill conference committee report reconciling the House and Senate versions of the bill lawmakers had already passed. With the May 14 and 15 votes, Congress reauthorized for five years legislation that provides nearly $300 billion in commodity, conservation, nutrition, trade and other programs.

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