WASHINGTON – Maryland lawmakers and farm groups are lauding the Bush administration’s newly released farm policy, which calls for increased funding for conservation and more equal distribution of government money to farmers.
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, said the recommendations would benefit those with small and medium farms who have not seen much money from traditional crop subsidies. Those subsidies tend to go farmers growing commodities like grain or cotton.
There were few details and no dollar figures attached to the broad proposals, which were released Wednesday by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.
The administration plans ask farm policymakers to consider increased incentives for farmers to practice conservation, tailored programs that account for differences in farm size and production methods, and safety nets to help farmers through unexpected disasters.
Asking for increased conservation funding is a departure from traditional Republican ideology, but the Associated Press quoted Veneman as saying President Bush reviewed and approved the policy himself.
“Conservation policy must pursue a portfolio of instruments, including stewardship incentives on working farmland or retirement of environmentally sensitive land to respond to Americans’ growing expectations about agriculture’s role in promoting and protecting environmental quality,” said a statement issue by the USDA.
Gilchrest said he was “very, very pleased with Secretary Veneman’s proposals,” which seem to be in line with a plan pushed by him and Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis.
The House Agriculture Committee has already approved a 10-year, $170 billion farm bill that would expand traditional crop subsidies, most of which goes to a small percentage of the largest farmers in the nation. Gilchrest and Kind have proposed shifting about $2 billion from farm subsidies toward conservation incentives.
“Anybody who lives in an area with small farms and has not benefited from the commodities payments, will benefit,” from the administration’s proposals, Gilchrest said. “I think the redistribution of those commodities payments is in order.”
Gilchrest and Kind had planned to offer their own proposal as an amendment to the committee’s bill, which was set to go to the full House earlier this month, but those plans were sidetracked by the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Maryland Farm Bureau officials said they hope the release of the administration proposals will help put the farm bill back on Congress’ agenda.
“We think it’s a good comprehensive review of some of the problems and challenges the farming industry faces, and we hope to further study the whole proposal,” said Valerie Connelly, director of government relations for the Maryland Farm Bureau.
“We hope that it will be a good guiding tool as Congress continues to debate the whole farm bill and we hope that it will move the bill back to the agenda for consideration in Congress because we have important programs that are going to expire soon,” she said.