Schafer holds door open for farm bill, if Congress comes together
Speaking at an International Food Aid Conference in Kansas City, Missouri, Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said the White House would approve a short-term extension of the farm bill past this Friday, but only if members of a House and Senate conference committee can agree on sources of funding and they accept real reforms in the bill.
Schafer's comments came at about the same time that the House of Representatives passed a one-week extension of current farm law.
"If they can't come together, if the House and Senate continue to fight, we can't negotiate with them," Schafer said when asked about the farm bill's status after speaking to a conference that drew more than 700 people from 25 different countries to discuss the affect of high crop prices on food aid programs.
Schafer said that the House and Senate must agree on funding sources, a spending level and real reform that would include a hard cap of $500,000 in adjusted gross income for nonfarmers and farmers.
If they do that, he said, "I believe I could recommend to the President that he sign another extension if it's a week or two."
When asked if the President would veto a final farm bill without an income cap of $500,000 to receive farm program payments, Schafer said, he would "definitely" advise a veto if that and other significant reform is not included in the farm bill.
Last week, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson said that members of the congressional ag committees were leaning toward a $500,000 limit, which is lower than those of House and Senate farm bills but higher than the $200,000 originally proposed by the Bush Administration.
But Peterson said that the limit would apply only to those with significant nonfarm income and that only about 23,000 people would be affected.
Schafer said Wednesday that the limit would need to apply to those with mainly farm income as well.
"The reality is, with a $500,000 hard cap, if there is a farm in America that can't meet a $500,000 hard cap, they need a new accountant," Schafer said.
When asked by a representative of the wheat milling industry if the USDA would consider opening up more acres for an early withdrawal from the Conservation Reserve Program without penalties, Schafer said that the decision has already been made not to open up early some 1 million acres set to come out of the program this year. Increases in yields are likely to meet the needs for wheat this year without an early out.
In 2009 some 4.5 million acres will be set to come out of the land retirement program and USDA "will make a decision for the 2009 crop in August or September."
Schafer also urged Congress to approve emergency funding for $320 million for food aid. Rising food costs as well as transportation are depleting funds for food aid faster than expected and on Monday the Bush Administration announced it was withdrawing $200 million of stocks from the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust to meet those needs temporarily. The Trust is a food reserve set aside for aid to developing countries during emergencies.