Monday, August 06, 2007

Farm Bill Reactions Mixed

Here is a short survey of various views of the Farm Bill at the August Recess of Congress:

Should the US Buy Local Food for Foreign Aid?

It is a small proposal but it could make a big difference to some of the hungriest people in the world. One version of the farm bill currently making its way through the U.S. Congress would allow the United States government to buy some food aid overseas for poor countries, such as those in Africa, rather than shipping it all from America.

Hunger advocates, like Bread for the World's Erin Tunney, say this plan makes good use of available resources. "It does not make sense to the average American, to the average African -- probably to the average anyone -- that the best way to get food to someone who is hungry a continent away is to buy it in the U.S., process it in the U.S., ship it on a U.S. ship and hopefully a couple months later, it would actually arrive to where it's needed."

Organic Farmers Not Happy:

The $300 billion farm bill, that the House recently passed, is a mix of progress and disappointment for organic farmers, according to advocates.

The bill increases funding for organics, although supporters of organic agriculture say they want a “fair share” of the money to match the share their products claim on the market.

The Specialty Crop Associate Seems Happier:

The U.S. House of Representative recently passed a Farm Bill that for the first time recognizes the needs and priorities of specialty crop producers.

Specialty crops account for nearly half of all the cash crop receipts in America. The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, a national coalition of more than 120 specialty crop organizations, is hoping that Congress will enact federal farm policy that focuses on increased competition while providing a safer, healthier and nutritious food supply for all Americans.

People in Maine Think the Farm Bill Could Go Farther:

Any bill that spends $286 billion over five years ought to make a lot of constituents happy, and the House version of the 2007 Farm Bill hands out enough commodity and income subsidies to keep most from complaining. But as generous as the bill is, it still doesn’t fully reform the system by which it hands out subsidies, how these federal transfer payments meet global trade rules and what affect these payments have on poor countries. The Senate, expected to take up its version of the bill next month, has plenty of work to do.

For instance, President Bush proposed providing benefits only to those farmers with adjusted gross incomes of under $200,000, to lessen the current concentration of payments to the wealthiest farms. But that would have affected about 38,000 farmers currently receiving subsidies, so House Democrats raised the cap to $1 million. This distribution to wealthy farmers hurts those with lower incomes because it limits how much they might receive and provides incentive for large-scale owners to further consolidate farms.

Wisconsin Senators Should Be Alert:

Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold should beware.

Wisconsin is expecting the 2007 federal farm bill to give American agriculture a new direction. The bill should suit a new era shaped by the global economy, growing demand for biofuels, a sense of urgency about conservation, and a need to rein in federal spending.

Yet, the House of Representatives this week adopted a farm bill that keeps agriculture stuck in the same old furrow — dependent upon subsidies, insulated from market demands — at a staggering cost of $286 billion over five years.

It’s now up to the Senate to adopt the needed reforms.

Kohl and Feingold should help make it happen.

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