'Negotiation and compromise'
There are several things to remember about the 2008 farm bill, which passed both houses of Congress: -?It feeds hungry people. -It protects the land. -?It helps farmers. OK. It's not perfect. It is badly misunderstood. The farm bill provides far ...
There are several things to remember about the 2008 farm bill, which passed both houses of Congress:
-?It feeds hungry people.
-It protects the land.
-?It helps farmers.
OK. It's not perfect.
It is badly misunderstood.
The farm bill provides far more money for hungry people than it does for farmers. Nearly 80 percent of the cost of the farm bill is for food programs, including $10.2 billion for domestic food assistance programs and $7.8 billion for food stamps. There's also $1 billion for a program to provide healthy snacks of fruits and vegetables in the nation's schools.
The farm bill has more than $4 billion for conservation programs, including extensions of the Conservation Reserve Program so important to the nation's wildlife. There are new provisions targeting wetlands and flooded croplands in the Devils Lake Basin.
Plus, there's $50 million to improve access to private lands for outdoor recreation activities in North Dakota.
The farm bill includes $1.5 billion to help the nation move closer to commercial production of ethanol from grasses rather than from corn, so-called cellulosic ethanol. There are tax credits to be used by producers in North Dakota, where the future for ethanol is bright.
These provisions have an impact on the nation's farmers, of course. That's why they're included in the farm bill.
But they are far from subsidies for wealthy farmers, as much of the national media suggested in covering the farm bill debate.
Farmers aren't overlooked, of course.
The new farm bill continues programs such as target prices and loan rates that provide a safety net for farmers. These are countercyclical, coming into play when commodity prices are low. They don't cost money when prices are high.
Loan rates and target prices have been familiar features of American farm policy for decades. It's because of these features that Americans enjoy a stable and inexpensive supply of food.
There's something new for farmers in the farm bill, and it's especially welcome. For the first time, the bill provides money for disaster relief -- before the disaster happens. That means the days of begging for money in the wake of a disaster should be over. Instead, money will be available quickly.
Congress missed opportunities to make other changes that would have improved the farm bill. Efforts to lower the limits for direct payments failed, for example. Although popular in the Midwest, Southern lawmakers refused to go along.
Some conservation provisions of the bill might have been further strengthened, as well.
The bill contains a number of provisions aimed at specific crops, and some of these seem questionable.
But like all legislation, the farm bill is the result of negotiation and compromise, and these processes seldom produce perfection.
In this case, they did produce overwhelming congressional support for the farm bill. Both houses passed the legislation by veto-proof majorities.
Passing this farm bill is a real achievement. It makes real changes and it helps real people. For this result, some area lawmakers deserve special recognition.
Minnesota's Collin Peterson chaired the House Agriculture Committee. North Dakota's Kent Conrad was the Senate's lead negotiator for the bill. Earl Pomeroy, North Dakota's only House member, serves on both the Agriculture and Ways and Means committees, positions that gave him special insight and special influence. Minnesota's Norm Coleman achieved some notable breakthroughs of benefit to sugar producers.
The region and the country should be grateful to these lawmakers.