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Critics: Farm Bill Locks Small and Minority Farmers in the Basement

February 21, 2008

Northern Neck, VA - Virginia's small farmers say the latest federal Farm Bill would give the most help -- to folks who need it the least. The bill now being finalized in Congress would limit farm aid to growers with gross profits of more than $15,000 a year, but does not include an income cap.

The minimum income requirement was meant to prevent hobby farmers from getting federal aid, but Northern Neck farmer Lloyd Wright says it also excludes most small and minority farmers from receiving any real benefits.

"They didn't put a ceiling on the rich, but they put a floor on the poor and, since most minority farmers are lower-income, it disproportionately impacts the small and minority farmers."

Wright, a former director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Civil Rights, believes sending aid to big farms doesn't help local communities.

"It's counterproductive to the kinds of things we should be trying to accomplish as a society -- to help small towns and rural areas, and do some significant rural development so that all the population benefits. But that's not what happens when this money goes to just a few."

However, Wright says he is optimistic that, in the final Farm Bill, the income floor will be removed. A version in which the income floor was not removed got a majority vote in the U.S. Senate, but failed to reach the 60-vote threshold required to avoid a filibuster.

John Robinson/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - VA