Principal farm bill negotiators are meeting again today in an attempt to wrap up the legislation, including a decision on where to set adjusted gross income limits for farm bill payment recipients, according to House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson. The Minnesota Democrat said today he hopes the meeting would "button this thing up." A spokeswoman for Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin, who chairs the conference, said the senator has not made a decision about whether to hold another formal conference or to ask conferees to sign the conference report. Negotiators have agreed to cut direct payments for farmers who make more than $950,000 a year, but the final income figure is undecided, Peterson said. He added he had asked CBO to score the cutoff at $900,000 and noted that this would apply to only an additional 14 farmers.
Peterson said the issue of whether to apply the adjusted gross income limits to conservation payments is under discussion. The Environmental Defense Fund led a coalition of environmentalists, fruit and vegetable groups, and cattle groups to write a letter Monday opposing the application of the commodity-program income test to the conservation payments. Peterson criticized the letter, saying that EDF had "ginned up" the campaign for commodity program payment limits, and added he had "never seen [such] hypocrisy." But the Environmental Working Group and the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition did not sign that letter opposing payment limits. EWG President Ken Cook said in an e-mail that with a limited budget, Congress needs to consider a means test for conservation programs. Peterson and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., spoke today to a coalition of farm, conservation and nutrition groups assembled by the National Farmers Union to make lobbying plans in favor of passing the bill.
Speaking at a separate event at the Institute for International Economics, World Food Programme Executive Director Josette Sheeran urged the negotiators to reconsider their decision to provide only $60 million in mandatory funding over 10 years for the McGovern-Dole international school feeding program. The House-passed farm bill provided $840 million for the initiative, but the Senate bill did not provide mandatory funding.
This article appears in the May 10, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily.