Farm Bill reform? Don’t bet on it.

The 2007 Farm Bill, which has been in conference for months as conferees struggled with the threat of an Administration veto over budget-busting funding and lack of real reform, supposedly had a breakthrough last Friday. In an April 25, 2008 statement on the Senate Agriculture Committee’s website, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), committee chairman said:

. . . the core farm bill utilizing the $10 billion above baseline has been worked out among key farm bill negotiators. Specific details and funding will still have to be worked out and are all subject to ratification by the full conference committee.

Harkin had scheduled a meeting this evening of the conference committee members to reach final agreement on support programs and their funding. But that meeting was postponed until Tuesday.

According to the Detroit Free Press, negotiators hammered out an agreement to bring the Farm Bill within budget constraints:

A key breakthrough came when senior lawmakers, after an hours-long huddle in an ornate room in the Capitol, agreed on a $1.7-billion package of tax breaks to be included in the bill, and on how to finance the overall package.

The outline includes an $861 million increase for nutrition programs, partially paid for by slashing crop subsidies by $400 million and cutting a program to pay farmers for ruined crops by $250 million.

In March 2008 during conference negotiations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer had issued a statement noting that the President would veto the bill if it exceeded spending limits and did not include reform measures. As the statement noted:

Unfortunately, the Farm Bills that passed the House and the Senate last year failed to address the issues of reform and instead raised taxes on the American people. Recent proposals from the Senate are looking around the $10 billion level for new spending of our farm programs, and we’ve outlined a path from the Administration to get there.

But at a time when we are enjoying a booming farm economy with record commodity prices, record farm income, record exports, it’s simply unacceptable to provide spending that increases the size and scope of government while increasing taxes to the people who pay for it.

But expect more legerdemain in the budgeting. And don’t expect real reforms of farm support programs. Take the sugar program — a system of price supports, restrictions on domestic supply and of imports. According to, the new sugar program would do the following:

— Sugar: The bill would raise the sugar loan rate three-quarters of a cent beginning in 2010, and changes the overall allotment quota to be a minimum of 85 percent of domestic consumption (previously was a set amount). It also includes a sugar-to-ethanol program.