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Farm Bill Brings Praise, Groans

December 17, 2007

St. Paul/Canton, MN; Lyons NE – There's mixed reaction from Minnesota farm and conservation leaders to the U.S. Senate's passage of the farm bill last week. Doug Peterson with the Minnesota Farmers Union calls it a "glass half full," with a number of provisions that will benefit farmers and consumers.

"We will have Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). There'll be interstate shipment of meat that is state-inspected. One of the big highlights is the power of market share; there's a title to reduce the marketplace concentration of packers' ownership of livestock. What that means is, the people that process the livestock should not be the owners of it."

Peterson is also pleased that the bill increases funding for farm fuels and specialty crops, and a permanent disaster program to help farmers and ranchers with weather-related losses. However, he's disappointed that the Senate opted to maintain large subsidies to mega-farms. Chuck Hassebrook, of the Center for Rural Affairs, shares Peterson's view. A proposal to end the subsidies, by Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, was not included.

"Most disappointing is that this bill will increase subsidies for the destruction of family farming, because it continues the misguided policy of providing huge payments to mega-farms that they can use to drive smaller operations out of business."

Hassebrook acknowledges some parts of the farm bill as "encouraging," including a training program for beginning farmers and a small business development initiative, but he believes these won't be adequately funded. President Bush had indicated he might veto the bill if its overall price tag is too high.

Loni Kemp with The Minnesota Project notes that, while there are some conservation-related initiatives in the bill, it should have gone much further.

"This farm bill should have been designed with the future in mind. The big needs we have include helping farmers take care of the environment and shifting toward having agriculture be a primary renewable energy source. The good news includes a revitalized Conservation Stewardship Program, which will spread excellence in conservation across the nation's working farmland."

Kemp says the latter, which encourages farmers to be good land stewards, now has solid funding and a longer open enrollment period. She believes the entire bill should have focused on funding these types of programs, rather than spending money subsidizing wealthy farm operations.

The Senate's farm bill now has to be reconciled with the House version (HR 2419) passed earlier this year. Doug Peterson hopes it happens fast. He says farmers "need to know the rules" so they can plan for the coming season.

Jim Wishner/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - MN