Wrongly criticized farm bill is real reform

In recent days, some critics have argued that the 2008 farm bill provides excessive subsidies to wealthy farmers while failing to address rising food costs for consumers. Clearly, these critics have not read the new farm bill, because nothing could be further from the truth.

As key negotiators of the final version of the farm bill, we know that it provides landmark reform of farm programs while investing in nutrition, conservation and energy programs.

In fact, the farm bill we are asking our colleagues to support reflects real reforms throughout the entire bill, but no more so than the payment limit provisions of the commodity title. We moved significantly in the direction of the Bush administration in response to their requests and our farmers have been willing to make changes to make certain we get good policy in place.

We developed a very market-oriented process so that our farmers and ranchers can achieve their income stream from the marketplace and not from Washington. That is what they wanted and that is what we want. These are real reforms that will have real consequences for producers faced with record fuel and fertilizer costs and huge capital requirements.

These reforms will improve on a policy that already provides American consumers with the safest, most abundant, most affordable food supply in the world. Even with the recent run-up in food prices, Americans spend far less of their incomes on food than any other nation in the world. This farm bill will reduce taxpayer spending on farm programs while maintaining a food delivery system that is the envy of the world.

America’s farmers are not to blame for the recent rise in food prices. Instead, higher food prices are the result of a fall in the value of the dollar, skyrocketing fuel and fertilizer prices, adverse weather conditions in key growing areas and increased overseas demand.

Our bill provides $10.3 billion in new spending on nutrition programs to help low-income American families put food on the table. This is the first significant updating of income limits and eligibility in decades.

In addition, our farm bill provides a generous expansion in conservation programs — some $4 billion to protect our natural resources and preserve open spaces for future generations. And it makes a historic investment in biofuels to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

It would be a mistake to reject this farm bill. The only realistic alternative is a long-term extension of current law.

If we go down that path, we deny implementing the reforms and improvements we made throughout the bill. We will turn our backs on the millions of Americans who rely on food stamps to keep from going hungry. We will forego $4 billion for conservation programs. And we will miss an opportunity to accelerate the transition from depending on foreign fuel supplies for our fuel needs to growing it right here at home.

We have a better approach. The current farm bill is good for consumers, good for the environment, good for taxpayers and good for reformers. The Congress should pass it. And the president should sign it into law.

Harkin chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee and Chambliss is its ranking member. Conrad chairs the Senate Budget Committee and Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Committee. Peterson chairs the House Agriculture Committee and Pomeroy sits on both the House Agriculture and Ways and Means committees.