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Committee approves modest reforms

Agriculture.com Staff 07/18/2007 @ 11:53am

As the House Agriculture Committee decides how to divide up a $280 billion farm bill pie over the next five years, members nibbled at the crust Wednesday, by approving payment reforms that will end the three-entity rule and also eliminating the smallest checks sent to landowners.

Payment limit reforms didn't go far enough in the eyes of some members.

"I'm feeling a little bad that it didn't go further," said Representative Earl Pomeroy (D-ND).

But the Committee Chairman, Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN) said his proposal struck the right balance.

"All of us on this committee want to make sure that production agriculture remains strong," Peterson said after the committee approved his reform plan.

It puts no limit on LDPs or marketing loan gains, which will eliminate the need to use commodity certificates to circumvent current limits. And it continues to allow a farming spouse to collect payments, in effect doubling the limits.

Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), who like Pomeroy has been an advocate of tough payment limits, asked Peterson how much will be saved with the reforms.

"I think the test of meaningful reform is how much money this saves," Fortenberry said.

Peterson said the reforms will save an estimated $226.5 million over five years and $522 million over 10 years.

The committee also approved an amendment by Representative K. Micheal Conaway (R-TX) to eliminate USDA payments to landowners that are less than $25. It costs USDA $15 to make the payments.

It was opposed by Representative Bob Etheridge (D-NC), who heads the commodities subcommittee.

In the Southeast, Etheridge said, that could hurt "a lot of small landholders that still have land."

Peterson said that he supported the amendment, pointing out that he and his son own a small amount of land for hunting and they would just as soon not have to bother with Farm Service Agency paperwork to receive small payments.

The committee didn't have an exact estimate of the savings from Conaway's amendment, but Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner told the committee that in 2004 the USDA distributed some 27,000 checks of less than $10.

The ban on checks under $25 would apply to electronic transfers as well as mailed checks.

Later Wednesday, Ferd Hoefner of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said that he doubted that the payment limit changes would save more than $50 million over five years. "There can't be that many bachelor farmers who were using the three-entity rule." he told Agriculture Online.

The reforms approved Wednesday morning could still be amended. The committee is expected to finish writing the commodity title today but could be meeting as late as Friday of this week, when Peterson said he wants to finish the farm bill.

As the House Agriculture Committee decides how to divide up a $280 billion farm bill pie over the next five years, members nibbled at the crust Wednesday, by approving payment reforms that will end the three-entity rule and also eliminating the smallest checks sent to landowners.

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