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DC Update, June 1, 2008

Farm Bill update

When Congress Returns Next Week, Time for the “Do Over”:  For anyone who may have missed it last week, the Senate plans to re-pass the farm bill next week (the House having already done so just before leaving town for the Memorial Day recess week), so the President can veto it again, and the Congress for the second time can overwhelmingly override the veto.  All the extra effort is necessitated by the miscue of the trade title not appearing in the printed version of the bill that went to the President to sign or veto.  While technically the entire bill other than the trade title is already law, the easiest route to getting the trade title enacted is to go through the entire process one more time.  The outcome is not in doubt, nor is the final round of finger pointing and teeth gnashing.

For more information and many analysis’s of the Farm Bill go to:

National Organic Coalition: http://www.nationalorganiccoalition.org/
Sustainable Agricultural Coalition: http://www.msawg.org/
Organic Farming Research Foundation: http://ofrf.org/index.html
National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture: http://www.sustainableagriculture.net/farm_bill.php
Organic Trade Association: www.ota.com

This Farm Bill includes many improvements in programs for the organic community thanks to the work of the National Organic Coalition, Sustainable Agricultural Coalition, Organic Trade Association, Organic Farming Research Foundation, and many other groups.

The bill includes a $10.3 billion increase in spending on nutrition programs, including food stamps, that supporters called “historic,” as well as increases for rural development and land conservation programs.

It also extends many existing federal subsidies that the president and other critics say are difficult to justify in such flush times for agriculture producers. President Bush had sought an adjusted gross income limit of $200,000 above which farmers could not qualify for any subsidy payments. The bill passed by the House, however, allows farm income of up to $750,000 and nonfarm income of $500,000 per individual.

That $750,000 limit applies to only one subsidy program, so-called direct payments that are disbursed based on land acreage and regardless of current market conditions or even whether the land is still actively farmed. While Mr. Bush has long called for curtailing subsidy programs, the farm bill is viewed as vital legislation both across rural America and in impoverished urban centers.
Some critics have also pointed to earmarks in the bill, including a tax break for racehorse owners added by the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and $170 million to benefit the salmon industry inserted by House Democrats from the West Coast.

Is this the last Farm Bill?
Of the $288 billion this food assistance bill will cost, fully 75% goes to nutrition programs. Only 16% goes to farm programs. This may have simply been a way for the Democrats to make sure the increasingly urban Congress voted with a veto-proof majority but the motivation may be more complex, to do with the broadening chasm between urban and rural interests in the U.S. In five years, when we return to this legislation, we'll be fighting over who can shove more money into "nutrition" programs, as in food stamps, food assistance and food give-away programs, along with how much really good farm land can we take out of production in the name of environmental stewardship, while racking up more dollars to see if we can turn just about anything on-farm into fuel of some sort.  With a loss of focus on the importance of rural America and a loss of independent producers through misdirected programs, there will be a possibility that Congress will be reluctant to tackle tough problems as they turn their back on farmers who feed us.  Perhaps Congress should remember where the food comes from that is purchased by food stamps and food banks.