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Curtains for 'Cowboy Starter Kits'

POSTED: 11:57 AM ET, 11/29/2007 by The Editors

The Senate is moving to shut down a loophole, first exposed in The Post's "Harvesting Cash" series, that has allowed some non-farming residents of suburban subdivisions to collect federal farm subsidy payments.

The series detailed how new owners of small plots carved out of former rice fields near Houston continued to collect USDA "direct payments" on the old farmland even though they grew no crops. Local real estate operators dubbed the properties "cowboy starter kits," a moniker that stuck. (Some senators and senate aides prefer a slightly more dignified name for these units. They call them "rancher starter kits.")

Now Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) have introduced their "Cowboy Starter Kit Amendment," requiring USDA to suspend all farm subsidy payments for "land that is no longer a farming operation or used in conjunction with a farming operation." Acreage once eligible for payments would be declared ineligible.

There is already some language in the proposed Senate farm bill to address the problem raised by the Post. But Nelson and Salazar contend it isn't clear enough and other key farm state lawmakers agree. "It would be in the best interest of everyone if we could close that loophole," said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). Conrad, a strong advocate of traditional farm programs, has criticized the Post series as one-sided. But he has also stressed the need to close loopholes and prevent abuses in order to maintain public support for the farm programs.

By The Editors |  November 29, 2007; 11:57 AM ET Harvesting Cash
Previous: Update in Schools Theft | Next: Coming Soon: Our Next Farm Investigation

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