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Farm Bill Update: Farms to Nowhere?

POSTED: 07:36 PM ET, 05/ 7/2008 by The Editors

To round up enough votes to override a threatened veto of the farm bill, House and Senate negotiators have been dropping in plums for almost everybody. So it's no big surprise that there may be some last-minute money in it for a few hundred farmers in Alaska, reports Dan Morgan.

Negotiators are considering authorizing $15 million a year for "geographically disadvantaged farmers," a provision championed by Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (R), one of Congress's most successful practitioners of bringing home the bacon.

The money won't help ranchers or farmers in remote reaches of Montana or Kansas. It's limited to those in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Pacific territories -- and icy, mountainous Alaska. Under a provision passed last year by the Senate -- but not the House -- farmers in those jurisdictions could be eligible for a federal check if they have to travel more than 30 miles to sell their products or buy fertilizer.

How many farmers will qualify in Alaska isn't known, but it won't be large numbers. The 2002 Census of Agriculture listed only 609 Alaska farms, almost a quarter of which were under 10 acres. About 100 had sales over $50,000. Hay, barley, potatoes, and fruit and vegetables grown in greenhouses are the main products.

Some farmers say that the provision would help them offset huge increases in the transportation costs of bringing farm supplies into the state, and enable Alaska to be more self sufficient. Jane Hamilton of the Alaska Farm Bureau called the measure a high priority, and credited Stevens' office with pushing it after state farmers joined a "fly-in" to Washington last year organized by the National Farmers Union.

In this case, Stevens' ability to deliver for his state is enhanced by another political card held by Alaska farmers this year. Advocates for the U.S. dairy industry need Alaska and Hawaii dairymen to start paying into a collective pool, called a checkoff, that funds research and the promotion of milk products. With only 6 dairies now located in Alaska-- and only slightly more in Hawaii--the states have long been excused from the checkoff.

That is suddenly a problem for the domestic dairy industry, which wants language in the farm bill requiring agribusiness companies importing dairy products into the United States to contribute to the pool. Under international trade rules, the fee wouldn't be allowed unless the checkoff is ruled to be "national"--which it wouldn't be if Hawaii and Alaska were excluded.

This has given lawmakers for two states leverage to push for acceptance of help for their farmers in return for joining the checkoff. One lobbyist said it appeared Alaska dairies would have to pay only about $13,000 a year into the checkoff -- far less than they could get from the Stevens-backed provision.

Meanwhile, the dairy import fee issue is turning into a battle of the dairy titans. The National Milk Producers Federation, representing domestic cooperatives and supported by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), supports making importers pay the fee. Opposed are companies such as Kraft and Conagra, and the International Dairy Foods Association, one of the best-heeled lobbying groups in Washington.

By The Editors |  May 7, 2008; 7:36 PM ET Harvesting Cash
Previous: Lost E-mail in Missouri and at the White House | Next: More On Hill Aides and Politicking

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This seems to be a perfectly reasonable application of subsidies in that it would help struggling farms and farmers. Especially when compared to the outrageous amount of money available to thriving agribusiness corporations.
"Farms to Nowhere"? Nice try at negative spin, get back to us when you have the cohones to take on the agribusiness lobby.

Posted by: Patrick Huss | May 8, 2008 11:01 AM

The Farm Bill destroyed our groundwater, rivers, lakes , streams and now the ocean. Here in Schuylkill County Pa. the Farm Bill and politics have killed babies, heartdisease and cancer is in every house. Politicians and newsmedia continue to cover the plaque in East Union Twp. Intentional spraying at bus stops and ethanol meaning corn on corn and the widening of fields have polluted the wells with high nitrates from overfertilizing paid for by Farm Subsidies. Spraying on a daily basis while the smell of the chemicals in which you cannot go outside or open the windows. This so called farm family here continues commit environmental crimes in which the rain is filling the wells with tumors. That is there plan meaning four brothers one on disabilty with cancer and dont know where he is , one had a brain tumor and one has a pace maker and one has murder of my family in which he is a speed freak and dont know what direction to walk. My life has become an Agricultural nightmere and to see the environment meaning most waterways polluted from Farm Subsidies just gets me sick. My grandchildren are all screwed up from the chemicals and there is no way to stop the chemicals that are sprayed at wellheads or the homes. Farmers arew above the law in which Congress kneeles down to farmers and change there will never happen. The USDA cant wait to give grants and low interest loans because the farmers destroying lives all across the country. Farmers complain about the fertilizer prices and how rough they had it in Vegas a few years ago at the Farm Convention. They lie about production meaning 15 bushels of corn per acre when they could get 450 bushels and pay pennies in taxes while the lies and destruction of lives across the country in they have killed more people than all the wars combined. I wonder who is lending the money for the Farm Bill , China, Russia, or Kuwait and I hope the three hundred billion dollars finish me off because there greed make me sick. Welcome to America.

Posted by: hooter | May 8, 2008 11:37 AM

farmers suck - leave my money alone

Posted by: VETO | May 8, 2008 11:53 AM

This Ted Stevens guy is relentless. People living in Alaska already get all kinds of free money from the "owl bidness", as president Bush calls it. I never told anybody to move to that enormous icebox -- why do I have to subsidize them?

Posted by: bayou boy | May 8, 2008 12:34 PM

They say that "Pigs get fat and Hogs get slaughtered." This proves that missive!

Posted by: FraudWatcher | May 8, 2008 6:57 PM

The only reason that Ted gets away with what you call pork is because the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OWNS MORE OF ALASKA THAN ALASKA DOES, OR ANY PRIVATE PARTY. They lock up our land so we cannot develope and sustain ourselves. Ergo the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT must take care of It's state, Alaska has no say in what happens on some 66% its land. If you are sick of supporting us then give us our land back, and we will shut up.

Posted by: AKfarmkid | May 12, 2008 4:24 PM

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