Senate OKs $286 billion farm bill

By Karl Terry: Freedom New Mexico

The long and winding road to a new farm bill got a leg up Friday as the Senate passed its own $286 billion version.

The bill, passed on a 79-14 vote, expands subsidies for wheat, barley, oats, soybeans and several other crops and creates new grants for vegetable and fruit growers.

It also increases loan rates for sugar producers, extends dairy programs and provides more dollars for renewable energy and conservation programs to protect environmentally sensitive farmland over the next five years.

The Senate version also includes language important to eastern New Mexico peanut farmers that would reinstate storage and handling payments that were lost last year and voted down again this fall, according to a press release from Sen. Pete Domenici’s office.

It also leaves in the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program which the local dairy industry has opposed.

Roosevelt County Farm Bureau President Matt Rush said it’s frustrating that much of the Washington debate has centered on subsidies.

Rush says that he prefers to refer to them as incentives, and that they guide farmers to ensure a stable and safe food supply.

“It’s very important to have it (the farm bill) because that’s what farmers base their plans on,” Rush said. “The thing that is really important to us are the safety nets.”

He says everything from what to plant to financial planning is impacted by the lack of a new farm bill.

Rush, who farms near Dora, and Hoyt Pattison, who farms north of Clovis, say the crop insurance programs and the disaster payments within the farm bill are a crucial factor for local farmers.

The House passed its farm bill in July. The two bills now need to be reconciled before going to President Bush.

Bush has threatened to veto the legislation, citing high costs and the government’s need to be cutting subsidies at a time of record-high crop prices.

Rush believes the difficulty in getting the bill through the Senate was related to amendments unrelated to agriculture. He said it started with over 100 such amendments.

“Right now the president is still threatening a veto but the committee (working to resolve the two versions) has the number of amendments down to 25,” Rush said. “They’re working hard to clean up the bill.”

Pattison agrees with Rush that having a farm bill is not about subsidizing farmers.

“Stability in agriculture is essential to the security of our nation,” Pattison said. “(Without a farm bill) we’d be pretty much like we were in the ’30s and I guess we really don’t want that.

“It provides a suitable food supply for our nation. Consumers would pay a lot more for food without the farm bill,” he said.

Pattison says he believes a farm bill will be passed into law but expects it to be some time in January.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.