New farm bill mix of the good, bad and the unknown

The $290 billion farm bill, with all its election year add-ons, is so confusing you?ll probably have to use the strategy that worked for your father too.

That?s to watch for the person at the Farm Service Agency who actually knows what to do to put your farm in compliance for payments.

There?s something added to the bill for nearly everyone, but the Kansas congressional delegation is expressing disappointment that direct payments on wheat and sorghum are being reduced regardless of yield.

Regarding the largesse, Roger McEowen, author of the monthly publication, Kansas Farm and Estate Law, said, ?It?s time to belly up to the hog trough, the slop is served.?

McEowen also is a professor in agricultural law at Iowa State University and a former agricultural economist and legal specialist for Kansas State Univer?sity. He conducts 30 to 100 seminars annually for farmers, business and tax professionals, and lawyers. He is a member of the bar in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska.

McEowen has been calling for more fiscal responsibility in developing a farm bill. He said President George W. Bush has been responsible in threatening to veto a bill that breaks budget with its giveaways without careful planning where supports are needed.

The bill passed last week 81-15 in the U.S. Senate and 318-106 in the House of Representatives. Even though Bush can veto the bill, McEowen and others said the majorities are large enough to override it.

A Georgia Republican said he hoped that in an election year the president remembered that members of his party have to look humanitarian and understanding of their constituencies.

There were many calls for reduction of subsidies for ?rich farmers,? but that term usually doesn?t cover the typical production farmer of this region, McEowen said in his calls for more realism.

Senators Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback of Kansas said the bill cuts $313 million in direct payments over three years and $5.7 billion out of the crop insurance program for farmers who face risk of crop ruin from droughts or freezes.

One farmer said, ?Make no mistake, when they are talking about farmers with income of $1.5 million, they aren?t talking about anyone who is actually getting their income from farming.

?They use that language to mislead people, and make them think these farmers are growing crops. In reality, small farmers like myself, who actually raise crops and have income from selling crops aren?t seeing much from subsidies.

?Those farmers who have $1.5 million in income are generally neurosurgeons or oil company executives who bought up huge tracts of land that already has agricultural exemptions on it. That way, they don?t have to pay high property taxes. They can sit on it while waiting to develop it as commercial or residential real estate, and meanwhile they get subsidy checks from the government.?

Another farmer said people who buy land just for hunting should be added to the ?unjustified subsidies? list.

On the subject of subsidy income limits, Art Barnaby Jr., agricultural economist at Kansas State, said, ?It makes for good political rhetoric to criticize payments for farmers with substantial incomes. Why should millionaires get checks from the government??

Mary Kay Thatcher, policy director with the American Farm Bureau, said, ?Our farmers and ranchers didn?t support an income limit because they believe you shouldn?t add that social element. The markets are telling them you need to get bigger to survive.?

John Hoffman, American Soybean Association president and a soybean farmer from Waterloo, Iowa, said, ?This legislation really is a food, conservation and energy bill.?

He said two-thirds of the bill?s funding is for the food stamp program and other nutrition initiatives.

He said 9 percent is for conservation, 14 percent to provide a safety net for farmers, and 10 percent for energy initiatives, rural development, research, trade promotion, international food assistance, crop insurance, and other items.

Hoffman said a new $6 per bushel target price for beans instead of the current $5.80, plus $300 million for Commodity Credit Corporation to make biodiesel more competitive with petroleum diesel, will help producers.

The bill reduces the tax credit for ethanol processors from 51 cents to 45 cents a gallon, but adds incentives to encourage production of cellulosic ethanol. Congressmen from urban areas wanted this in an attempt to do something about rising food prices, and their peers such as those from dairy states wanted it to reduce animal feed costs.

All of the representatives from this area liked the added support for cellulosic alcohol because it might encourage alternative crop production such as switchgrass or sweet sorghums.

McEowen and others said there is much in the bill that has nothing to do with farming, and perhaps more to do with taxpayer largesse for electioneering members of Congress.

They include items such as depreciation incentives for race horse breeders, money for rural Internet expansion and money for the timber industry.

In endorsing the bill, the American Farm Bureau listed three initiatives that will benefit farmers. These are a country-of-origin labeling program, a new interstate shipment of meat program to allow small and medium-sized meat processors to gain business across state lines, and the promotion and creation of farmers? markets to allow consumers access to fresh food.

David Kohl, agricultural economist from Virginia Tech, who visited Hillsboro for a seminar last winter, said 82 percent of Americans now are more than a generation removed from the farm. So, don?t look for farm bills to get any better, he said, unless the city cousins can be educated better.

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