Million-dollar farmers to lose subsidies
WASHINGTON – The House Agriculture Committee voted Wednesday to ban federal subsidies to farmers with incomes averaging more than $1 million a year and stop farmers from collecting payments for multiple properties.Only farmers whose incomes exceed $2.5 million a year are now disqualified from such aid.The committee is putting together a wide-ranging, five-year farm bill to replace the current law that governs Agriculture Department programs and expires in September. The limits are an attempt to appease a growing number of critics – including the Bush administration – who say the country’s farm subsidies need an overhaul.At the same time, the bill would increase the maximum limit on direct payments, subsidies that are not based on current crop production or prices.Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said the proposal “is a sound compromise that no one is satisfied with but nonetheless represents real reform.” He said the payment changes would save the government $226 million over five years.Some critics continued to call for weaning farmers off subsidies altogether, saying Peterson’s compromise doesn’t address demands from World Trade Organization partners to cut U.S. farm subsidies drastically.”It will do very little to make our agriculture policies more equitable, will not address the real challenges we face at the WTO, and it will not do anything to help our farmers produce for the market rather than for the government paycheck,” said Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis.Kind is the author of an alternative bill that would replace subsidies with government subsidized savings accounts that farmers could use to cover losses when crop prices are low or yields are poor. He won 200 votes – 18 short of a majority – for a similar plan when Congress wrote the 2002 farm bill.House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., supported Kind’s plan back then but now must worry about her party holding onto farm state seats in next year’s election.Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns also has been critical of the committee’s attempts at reform. The administration has put forward its own proposals, including a limit on payments to farmers who earn an average of more than $200,000 a year.Earlier this week, Johanns said the committee’s bill is a “missed opportunity” for reform. On Wednesday, however, Deputy Agriculture Secretary Charles Conner said Peterson appears to be moving in the right direction.Kind, Johanns and other critics say tight budgets and recent high prices for corn and other crops create an opportunity to save money on farm programs. Farm groups say they still need a safety net if prices drop.Peterson’s bill also would:-Boost support for fruit and vegetable producers, including research and marketing assistance and increased government purchases.-Reauthorize federal nutrition programs, including food stamps.-Increase subsidies for some conservation programs that pay farmers to protect environmentally sensitive land.-Provide loan guarantees for ethanol refineries.The bill could get a vote in the full House this year, but there has been no action on it in the Senate.