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It's been 10 days since the House Agriculture Committee officially started working on it farm bill version. Despite a veto threat announced by Ag Secretary Mike Johanns and GOP rebellion after hearing of tax increases or loophole closings to pay for increased nutrition funding, the farm bill passed by a 231-191 vote.
Important highlights of the farm bill (H.R. 2419) include:
- Investing $1.6 billion to support the fruit and vegetable industry
- Implementing Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling for fruit, vegetables and meat.
- Providing farmers participating in commodity programs with a choice between traditional price protection and new market-oriented revenue coverage payments.
- Strengthening payment limits to ensure that people making more than $1 million a year (adjusted gross income) can't collect conservation and farm program payments and closing loopholes that allow people to avoid payment limits by receiving money through multiple business units.
- Extending and making significant new investments in popular conservation programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentive Program, Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, and many others.
- Making important new investments in renewable energy research, development and production in rural
- Rebalancing loan rates and target prices among commodities.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin said there are a lot of good features in the House bill and, of course there are others he believes the Senate will improve upon. "Most notably, the House bill did serious damage to conservation and, in doing so, ignored its tremendous value and potential and its strong support from agricultural producers and conservationists. These programs are needed now more than ever because of increased crop production," he said. "I am hopeful the Senate can do a better job to fund investments in conservation that will allow us to grow crops that represent the next generation of energy production, like cellulose."
Congress is on recess during August. The Senate is expected to begin working on its farm bill proposal when returning in September. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns said this week President Bush would like to sign a bill this year, but will veto the House version as it currently stands.