Johanns Stirs the... Soup; Headed for a Veto-Heartbreak?

I can't exactly remember when, but at some point a few months back the United States Department of Agriculture released formal farm bill proposals. It certainly feels like a long time ago, and since then those proposals have pretty much fallen off the face of the earth. (Note- we did review the administration's proposal in our March newsletter). And perhaps a bit more attention should have been paid to Agriculture Secretary Johanns and his proposals in the past few months, because he is now beginning to make a little noise- and probably make some people more than a little nervous.

One of the primary thrusts of the administration's proposal was ensuring a WTO-friendly commodity title. Along those lines, they proposed increasing direct payments (paid regardless of production or price, thus classified as "non-market distorting" by WTO), substantially changing countercylcical payments, and reducing marketing loan benefits (both of which are paid only when prices are low- not WTO-friendly). The adminstration also proposed doing away with the ban on planting fruits and vegetables on land receiving farm program payments, another item the WTO frowns upon. That ban is strongly supported by the fruit and vegetable industry, which does not want subsidized farmers competing with their producers, very few of whom receive farm program checks.

Unfortunately for the administration, the two gentlemen running the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have other ideas. They don't particularly like direct payments (a legacy of the 1996 Republican-written farm bill), so there is a great deal of chatter about taking money out of the direct payment program and putting it into countercyclicals and marketing loans- the exact opposite of what the administration proposed. The House approved a peanut support program that followed the reducing-direct payments model a week ago, and it is expected that the same general thrust will be included in the commodity title approved later today.

Not only that, but the ban on planting fruit and vegetables remains intact in the most recent version of the House farm bill. Essentially, to keep the fruit and vegetable people happy, you would have to give them a bunch of money (in the form of new programs) if you really wanted to do away with that ban. And as has been noted here before, money is very very tight. So the ban remains, another slap in the administration's face.

But now Johanns is fighting back. It has become ever more clear that the 2007 farm bill is shaping up to be something the adminstration really won't like, and Johanns is not sitting still. His fired his first salvo June 7th, according to DTN's Chris Clayton:

Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns expressed some specific worries to farm and commodity groups this week about the focus on proposals to move funds from direct payment programs to other commodity program uses -- changes he believes could increase the likelihood of World Trade Organization challenges...

Obviously, the administration hopes that it can jawbone farm group representatives and the Congress away from programs they believe could make U.S. policies both less equitable and more subject to litigation by trading partners. At the same time, feedback from the meeting suggests substantial skepticism on the part of participants that the administration would actually veto a farm bill, especially one passed by a healthy margin. [Read More Here]

Is that the V word I just heard?

Continue reading the full post below.

Bumping Around the Farm Bill

As far as the political process of the farm bill goes, the big news is that Collin Peterson may allow the various “reform” farm bills to be offered as amendments when the House Agriculture Committee considers the farm bill next week.

An Inverted Pyramid of Organic Piffle

In the midst of all the Farm Bill chatter, our pals over at USDA are gamely trying, yet again, to water down the organic label. Lots of media outlets have noticed this (including the NYTimes). But instead of reading those articles and trying to memorize all of the non-organic ingredients USDA would like to allow into your organic sustenance, I recommend reading DairyQueen over at Ethicurean.

What is a Loophole Anyway?

Here at the Center we talk a lot about closing loopholes in current Farm Bill programs. Just this week we said:

The new [EWG] data illustrates how the nation's largest farms exploit loopholes to exceed the limits on farm program payments. It's time for Congress to close loopholes, make the paper limits real and stop subsidizing mega farms to drive their neighbors out of business.

But we might not always do the best job of explaining exactly what these loopholes are.

EWG, Revisited

Yesterday, the big news was EWG’s new farm subsidy database, and rightfully so. Yet again we were reminded of the vital need for strong, effective farm program payment limitations. And fairly predictably, I put up a long and sarcastic post about the King of Farm Programs, Maurice Wilder. When you’re trying to write a blog, it’s a lot easier to be angry and sarcastic, let me tell you.


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