WASHINGTON (AP)--Leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee want to provide government subsidies to people who are actively farming, rather than absentee landowners and corporations.
Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, the committee's Democratic chairman, and Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, its senior Republican, on Sept. 25 issued a list of broad principles that they want farm programs to follow.
They said government payments should provide reasonable protection for producers who are "actively involved in farming and ranching."
Although there are limits on what individual recipients can get, anyone with a financial stake in farmland and the crops it produces can qualify for subsidies.
The committee is expected to begin work this fall on a revision of farm programs that are scheduled to expire a year from now. Harkin said the Senate bill should be a "a significant change from past policies."
Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman was scheduled to testify before the committee Sept. 26.
She issued a 120-page report last week that criticized crop subsidies and proposed putting more money into conservation programs. Price supports are stimulating excess production and inflating land rents, making it harder for U.S. farmers to compete with lower-cost growers in other countries, the report said.
Harkin and Lugar are expected to push for more spending on conservation programs than other committee members.
They did not recommend spending levels for any programs, but they said conservation spending should be balanced between land-retirement programs and rewards to farmers for improved environmental practices on land still in production, the senators said.
The House Agriculture Committee this summer approved legislation that would spend nearly $170 billion in food and agriculture programs over the next decade.
The bill expands assistance to grain and cotton farmers, who have traditionally received the lion's share of federal aid. Economists say spending under the bill could exceed the annual subsidy limits the U.S. committed to in the World Trade Organization. The limits apply to subsidies that encourage crop production.
The list of principles "is still a long ways from a Senate bill," said Mary Kay Thatcher, a lobbyist for the American Farm Bureau Federation. "These seem like goals that really are motherhood and apple pie that anybody could be supportive of."
Andy Fisher, a spokesman for Lugar, said the list's content was not as important as it was that Lugar and Harkin "have spelled out that they want to work in a bipartisan way to draft a farm bill along these lines."