20 October 1995

Clinton set to veto freedom to farm

By Don Philpott

US president, Bill Clinton, may veto the "freedom to farm" bill, approved by Congress last week.

The bill, which plans to slash total farm spending by $15bn (£9bn) over the next five years, was approved despite last-minute efforts by moderate Democrats to have it sent back to the agriculture committee for further discussion.

The main casualties are set-aside programmes and subisidies, due to be cut by $9bn (£6bn) over the next five years.

Further savings are also planned by cutting subsidies on food stamps given to the poor and reducing subsidies on school meals.

The Republican majority in Congress, which is determined to balance the federal budget within seven years, wanted to slash farm subsidies by $13.6bn (£8.5bn) over five years. Under its plans the amount of farm land ineligible for farm subsidies would double from 15% to 30%, subsidies, particularly dairy price support, would be scaled back and export aid for farm produce reduced.

Republicans argue that the "freedom to farm" bill will give farmers greater planting flexibility allowing non-environmental set-aside to be phased out. But Mr Clinton has said he will veto the bill warning that subsidy cuts could decimate rural America. He fears farmers will be driven out of business by subsidised overseas competition and consumers will be hit by higher food prices.

Experts predict that the US will export $49bn (£31bn) of agricultural produce this year. Most farmers have done well over the past 10 years, with total farm debt down by 17% over that period, while total farm equity is up 30% to $772bn (£485bn).

Figures also show that about 70% of farms get no federal aid, while 5%, mainly large corporate farms with incomes over $300,000 (£200,000) or more, get 40% of government aid. &#42

Bill Clinton fears subsidy cuts may decimate rural America.