Farm Bill failure fuels anti-ag campaign

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The U.S. Senate just missed a grand opportunity to re-establish American farmers as heroes among U.S. citizens. But by failing to pass a reformed farm bill, we will probably continue to see more attack ads blaming ethanol and biofuels for higher food prices, a statement that is false but plays well with the left coast media.

For too long our farm policy has put money in the hands of the wrong people. Yes, only a few, but when celebrities, rich people and sports heroes are getting farm payments, the system is clearly open to criticism and must be reformed.

If we don't reform farm policy we risk losing credibility with Joe Consumer, who may question supporting farmers when the next agriculture issue pops up on Capitol Hill. In these days of higher commodity prices, a pared-back, more efficient farm bill could pass savings on to feed more poor people. A farm bill that caps payments to farmers who don't need them, or stops payments altogether to those who don't farm, would show the world that agriculture has its priorities straight.

Instead, we will most likely get the same-old, same-old as this Senate rushes to pass its $286 billion Farm Bill by Christmas. A House-Senate Conference Committee could get a bill to the president's desk by the end of January.

This week the Farm and Ranch Equity Stewardship and Health (FRESH) Act was debated and rejected by a vote of 58-37. The FRESH Act, another very good idea by Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar, sought to replace the current farm subsidy program with a crop insurance program that would cover all farmers and ranchers. It made sense, but apparently commodity groups thought it was too risky.

On Thursday, the bipartisan Grassley-Dorgan amendment, which would cap farm payments at $250,000, fell four votes shy of the supermajority 60 needed to pass. The 60-vote rule was invoked to prevent a filibuster. Later in the day senators rejected an amendment by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., that would have banned payments to farmers who make more than $750,000 a year, after expenses. The vote was 48-47. The south made sure those payment caps never happened.

"I am disappointed that the Senate defeated Sen. Klobuchar's amendment that would have helped bring reform to the farm program,•bCrLf says Acting Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner. "I have talked with farmers all across America, and most do not support a policy that takes tax dollars from middle income America and transfers it to the nations wealthiest few."

The Klobuchar amendment would create a more stringent Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) test for eligibility for commodity programs. Under this amendment, a full time farmer would have to have an AGI below $750,000, while a part-time farmer would need an AGI below $250,000 to qualify for program benefits.

The Administration had consistently supported lowering the Adjusted Gross Income eligibility for commodity programs, and although the Klobuchar amendment does not go as far as USDA's proposal, it clearly was a step in the right direction.

"Its defeat signals yet another missed opportunity by the Senate to enact true reform," says Conner.

So when this farm bill passes and food prices continue to climb, don't be surprised if the anti-biofuel drum continues to beat in the mainstream media. Even though recent studies show biofuels have little to do with food prices, perception can be a powerful ally — or, in this case, a powerful negative.

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