Farm bill to boost funding for food stamps, land conservation, biofuels

OCTOBER 19TH, 2007 | Harkin for Senate

By JENS MANUEL KROGSTAD, For The Globe Gazette

WASHINGTON — A farm bill expected to reach the Senate floor in two weeks will provide additional funding for food stamp benefits, land conservation and biofuels.

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Thursday the legislation will include an optional crop subsidy program in which farmers can choose smaller direct payments in return for more protection against poor yields and falling prices.

The bill will also expand to $1 billion a fresh fruits and vegetable program for schools that he introduced in the previous farm bill.

Harkin, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the bill would earmark $4.2 billion for food stamp benefits, $3.7 billion for land stewardship and $1.3 billion for biofuels over the next five years.

Under the bill, which will pass through committee next week, Harkin expects to draw more than 80 million acres of land into the conservation stewardship program, formerly the conservation security program. It provides financial and technical assistance to help conserve natural resources.

The bill allotted $500 million for rural development programs like affordable day care, broadband Internet access and rural hospital funding, although Harkin said the funding may not survive opposition in the House.

While some Iowa farmers and the National Corn Growers Association support the crop-subsidy program, crop insurance companies oppose it, fearing it will hurt business.

Harkin argued farmers may actually purchase more insurance under the new plan because it is tied to state — not local — prices.

“It doesn’t assure anything at the county or local level,” he said. “I think farmers would want to buy up some local insurance.”

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, on Wednesday criticized the exclusion of a hard cap for farm payments in the Senate bill. He supports limiting payments to $250,000 per farming couple.

“I have yet to see a good reason for 72 percent of farmers getting 10 percent of the benefits of the farm program,” Grassley said in a statement.

Even if one isn’t included coming out of committee, Harkin said he expects the Senate to support a similar measure and noted the Senate voted for a $275 million cap in 2002.

Part of the biofuels funding will promote cellulosic ethanol that can be made from materials like switchgrass and wood chips. Harkin said it will help spur growth of the ethanol industry in southern Iowa and across the country.

“Right now we have a biofuels boom in the major corn growing parts of the state,” he said. “By giving a shot in the arm to the cellulosic ethanol industry, we can extend that prosperity to parts of the state south of I-80.”

Jens Manuel Krogstad is a reporter for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, like the Globe Gazette a Lee Enterprises newspaper.

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