House and Senate leaders agreed Wednesday to cut some payments to wealthy farmers in a nearly $300 billion farm bill, with floor votes expected to come next week.
The legislation is expected to limit payments to farmers who have adjusted gross incomes of $750,000 or more. Under a proposal last week, an individual could have as much as $950,000 in annual farm income and not lose any subsidies. President Bush had wanted a $500,000 limit, according to congressional aides who spoke to The Wall Street Journal.
Bush, who has called the bill "bloated," wants aggressive changes in the bill. The legislation, however, has attracted strong support from both parties. If Bush vetoes the bill, lawmakers have vowed a fight, the Journal reported.
The bill makes few changes to the structure of the farm program, which dates from the Depression era. It would expand nutrition, land stewardship, specialty crop, and biofuel development programs.
According to Reuters, pressure for a new law from farm country has been muted because market prices are so high that most subsidies will not be triggered. The winter wheat harvest starts in a few weeks, triggering concerns about what will be the federal safety net.
The new bill will continue existing subsidy programs for grain and cotton farmers while creating an optional new plan to protect corn growers against poor yields as well as a drop in market prices. The new program would trigger subsidies when farm revenue falls below statewide targets, the Des Moines Register reported.
Whatever the outcome of the bill, small farmers feel pinched. The Brian Call and Joan Gibson family of Levant, Maine, for example, are calling a meeting of congressional leaders after unsuccessfully trying to get federal and state help to keep their 1820 dairy farm afloat.
"In both the past and recently, I've touched base with every federal and state agricultural agency for grants and other forms of help, and there is nothing available for small farmers," Joan Gibson told the Bangor Daily News.
"I will tell you that we realize no profit from our dairy farm, nothing," she said.
Brian Call said he was paid $2,194 for his milk in March. His expenses: $2,666 for grain, $78 for fuel (a low amount, he said, because they weren't working the fields last month), $340 for electricity, $150 to the veterinarian and $120 for breeding services.