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USDA's Schafer still hopes for a new farm bill

Agriculture.com Staff 03/14/2008 @ 3:52pm

Although President Bush said yesterday that he favors extending the current farm law if Congress can't finish a farm bill in the next month, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said Friday that the administration still hopes for new legislation.

"None of us want to see an extension of the current farm bill," Shafter told Agriculture Online in an exclusive interview.

That, he said, would be "a nonpalatable alternative. We may just have to go to it, because farmers need to know" the programs they'll operate under during the approaching growing season.

Without a new farm bill, "you leave on the table a lot of things," he said. That includes more money for conservation, more support for the fruit and vegetable sectors of agriculture, and more money for nutrition programs, he said.

Right now, not increasing funds for nutrition programs, which include food stamps, would be difficult, he said.

"To drop back on that would be hard as we see increasing participation in the program as well as increasing costs," Schafer said.

Schafer said one if his own biggest disappointments would be that failure to pass a new farm bill might defer new spending on biofuels. The new farm bill is expected to carve out about $2 billion for research on biomass. A top priority for him in his one-year stint as ag secretary has been "to set USDA on a course to oversee and direct the emergence of renewable fuels."

Schafer said that if the United States in the next decade could replace a fourth of the 4 billion barrels of oil it imports every year with domestic biofuels that farm income would double.

"It would change the face of rural America," he said.

Schafer also said that the administration is now willing to accept a $500,000 adjusted gross income limit for those eligible for commodity program payments. That's up from the administration's original proposal of $200,000. The Administrations strong interest in reform reflects the views ordinary Americans shared at some 50 farm bill listening sessions, he said.

Although President Bush said yesterday that he favors extending the current farm law if Congress can't finish a farm bill in the next month, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said Friday that the administration still hopes for new legislation.

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