Locals divided on farm bill

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks A dairy cow eats feed at a Roosevelt County farm.

Freedom New Mexico

Reaction among local ag producers and lawmakers to a farm bill passed in Congress this week is split.

The $290 billion measure will increase food aid for the needy as well as subsidies for farmers enjoying record high incomes.

Curry County Commissioner and dairy farmer Albin Smith said despite the bill’s bloated size, not much assistance actually goes to farmers.“It’s called the farm bill, but the food stamp program is included in this program,” Smith said. “When we hear about a farm bill on television or in the newspaper, we assume that all this is nothing more than money going to farmers. But the government assistance in food stamps and other programs are included in this.”

The bill extends the Milk Income Loss Contract program in a move Sen. Pete Domenici, R-NM, disparaged. He said it will provide subsidies to dairy farmers in other areas and do little for New Mexico’s dairies except make them less competitive.

Domenici said New Mexico dairy producers had asked him to oppose the expansion of the MILC program.

“For us out here in the Southwest, we would rather that program go away, we don’t like it,” Smith said. “The amount of money we would get, in the big scheme of things, for us, is really small.”

The bill also lowers peanut storage support, which has been essential to area peanut farmers recently, Domenici said.

Wayne Baker, president of the New Mexico Peanut Growers Association, was supportive of the bill.

“When the prices of peanuts was $350 a ton, the handling and storage paid by the government was important to area farmers,” Baker said. “But now that peanuts are above $500 a ton there should only be a $30-to-$50 difference per ton.”

About two-thirds of the bill would pay for domestic nutrition programs such as food stamps and emergency food aid for the needy. An additional $40 billion is for farm subsidies, while almost $30 billion would go to farmers to idle their land and to other environmental programs.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who voted for the bill, praised its nutrition initiatives and said it provides help in the right places, particularly drought and disaster aid, for agriculture producers.

“This bill will have a major impact on the nutrition of many New Mexico families,” Bingaman said. “I’m glad we passed this measure with enough votes to override the president’s likely veto.”

The White House has indicated that Bush will veto the $290 billion farm legislation, contending it is fiscally irresponsible and too generous to wealthy corporate farmers in a time of record crop prices.

Freedom New Mexico writers Gabriel Monte and Thomas Garcia and the Associated Press contributed to this report.