US farmers fight for extra support

American farm leader Bob Stallman this week urged President George W Bush not to veto the new Farm Bill, but to sign it off quickly and end the uncertainty overhanging US farmers and ranchers.

Mr Stallman was addressing the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 89th annual convention in New Orleans, Louisiana.

“I have talked to a lot of farmers and I can tell you. They don’t really care about all the back and forth from Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “What our members care about is: when are we going to know what the rules are so we can plan our planting operation.”

Preparation of the new Farm Bill, which will set out the shape and level of farm support for the next five years, has reached a crucial stage in Washington.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have now approved their own versions. A congressional committee now has to merge the two documents into a unified version to send to the White House for approval. This will be done in the next few weeks.

Acting agriculture secretary Chuck Connor told the AFBF convention that there would have to be considerable changes to the Farm Bill to have any chances of gaining White House approval.

In particular, he was dismayed that the Senate’s version actually raised the cost to taxpayers by some $15bn – the first time since 1933 that a Farm Bill has relied on tax increases.

And both the House and Senate versions fail to restrict the payment of income supports to America’s largest and richest farmers – something the US department of agriculture had sought by limiting taxpayer support to those with a net annual income of under $200,000.

But Mr Stallman said the AFBF was strongly opposed to any means testing or payment capping. The whole US system of direct payments was based on historical data and to suddenly put in artificial thresholds would be discriminatory.

The priority for the AFBF was to maintain the “three-legged stool” of farm support – direct payments, counter-cyclical payments and loan deficiency payments – and a permanent disaster programme.