WASHINGTON Senators writing the new U.S. farm
law ought to reduce, or even eliminate, crop subsidies and
boost land stewardship and rural economic development, a group
of small-farm advocates, environmentalists and budget-cutters
said on Wednesday.
The Senate Agriculture Committee was expected to draft its
farm bill later this month. The House version, passed in July,
makes modest changes in crop supports and allots more money for
public nutrition, land protection, biofuels and specialty crops
Three major issues for the Senate committee will be whether
to pare the $5.2 billion guaranteed annually to grain, cotton
and soybean farmers, whether to lower the amount a farmer can
collect and how to apportion money among other Agriculture
Department programs, such as food stamps and renewable energy.
"We really need to have a serious effort to reform the farm
bill in the Senate, and it's going to be hard going," said Ken
Cook of the Environmental Working Group. He faulted the House
bill for "phony reforms" of farm subsidy limits.
Oxfam America and nine other groups announced during a
telephone news conference a series of television and newspaper
advertisements with the tagline, "Make the farm bill fair."
Oxfam America said it paid for the $225,000 campaign.
Although united for reform, Oxfam and its allies in the
teleconference have differing goals. Some, like EWG and the
Land Stewardship Project, based in Minnesota, want more money
for land stewardship and rural development. Taxpayers for
Common Sense would phase out crop supports altogether.
"We're hoping to see some meaningful reforms at the end of
the day," said Liam Brody of Oxfam America, which says
excessive U.S. subsidies hurt poor farmers around the world.
Specialty crop growers -- farmers who produce fruits,
vegetables, nuts and nursery plants -- seek more federal
funding of export, crop research and pest control programs.
They have their own alliance, which hopes to persuade the
Senate to double the $1.6 billion in new funding approved by
An alliance member, who asked not to be identified, said
some reformers "just want to blow things up, with less interest
in where the pieces land."
He said the alliance's drive for expanded funding, backed
by 36 senators, may stand in the Senate as a proxy for reform
of traditional crop subsidies.
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, a member of the Agriculture
Committee and the Republican leader of the Finance Committee,
said soil, water and wildlife conservation should be at the
front of the line for new funding in the farm bill.
A tax bill approved by the Finance Committee effectively
gives the Agriculture Committee $3 billion in new funding.
Grassley said the farm bill also should help black farmers
get a hearing on discrimination claims, should assure growers
of fair play in dealings with agribusinesses, and should expand
a program that helps farmers dabble in value-added products.