Senate Ag Committee Chairman Tom Harkin and ranking Republican Saxby Chambliss hold a press conference in Washington D.C. Tuesday to publicly unveil the Chairman’s Mark of the 2007 Farm Bill. The Senators are expected to demonstrate bi-partisan support for the measure, which has already drawn criticism from some quarters for its failure to include language sponsored by Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley and North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan that would dramatically tighten farm program payment limits.
One stand alone bill that will get included, however, is legislation from South Dakota Republican John Thune aimed at spurring production of cellulosic ethanol feedstocks. According to a Thune press release, the measure would spend some $200 million in federal cost-sharing dollars to establish energy-dedicated crops and pay competitive rent until those crops are sold. Thune’s addition to the farm bill would also provide per-ton payments to producers of biomass, like corn cobs, perennial grasses, and wood chips.
But not all are happy about it:
The farm bill could promote wise use of this resource and limit the amount of petroleum-based fertilizer and pesticides that end up in the country's waterways. Or the bill can encourage the overproduction of crops like corn, soybeans, wheat, and rice that underpin processed-food production and the fast-food industry. The subsidies for these food crops and cotton drive down international prices, hurting low-income farmers in places like Africa. They also leave inadequate funds for food stamps, conservation, and aid to vegetable and fruit farmers in small-farm states like Massachusetts.
Earlier this year, the Democratic-led House passed a $286 billion bill little different from the subsidy-laden one passed by the Republican-led House five years ago. If the Senate, which is about to begin work on its bill, cannot produce something substantially better than the House, President Bush should not hesitate to veto the final version.
What can we do to help the hungry? We can support the reauthorization of the Nutrition Title (Title IV) of the Farm Bill, which is one of the most important anti-hunger actions that Congress will take this year. The Farm Bill is an omnibus piece of legislation that contains key provisions that support a variety of nutritional, environmental and agricultural issues. For example, Title IV in the Farm Bill includes the Food Stamp Program, the backbone of our nation's nutritional safety net, as well as TEFAP, a program that provides commodities to food banks across the country.