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FARM BILL: Legislation moves in the right direction

BEMIDJI -- With its passage Thursday, the long-awaited 2008 farm bill now heads to President Bush's desk, where he already has pledged to veto it sight unseen.

BEMIDJI -- With its passage Thursday, the long-awaited 2008 farm bill now heads to President Bush's desk, where he already has pledged to veto it sight unseen.

It is a bill that he should sign, but if he be so inclined to veto it, we hope he does so as soon as possible so the Congress can override the veto and the nation's farmers and ranchers can get back to the business they know best -- keeping the United States as the world's top agricultural producer of a stable, affordable food supply.

The farm bill, which charts the nation's agricultural policy and appropriations for the next five years, has broad bipartisan support and, most important, is veto- proof by passing with a 318-106 margin in the House and 81-15 in the Senate.

The president's biggest argument is that the bill doesn't go far enough in limiting direct payments to farmers and part-time farmers. But the bill, through its improvements in conference committee, does go a long ways down the road to reform an archaic subsidy system. The current farm bill allows payments to nonfarmers who make up to $2.5 million; the new law brings that threshold down to $500,000. The current law doesn't limit subsidies to farmers; the new law sets a $750,000 income threshold. And the so-called three-entity rule has been eliminated, under which a farmer also could collect payments through his corporation. The administration, meanwhile, sought a $250,000 income threshold.

But what most of America seems to forget is that the farm bill is all about providing a safe, secure and bountiful food supply to all Americans. Two-thirds of its $290 billion goes to nutrition programs such as food stamps and food shelves, not to farmers. New money found for the bill, $10.4 billion, is directly going to nutrition programs, and emergency food bank programs will see $1.5 billion more than the previous farm bill.

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The bill is also key to Minnesota, not only in increased sugar marketing loan rates and a strengthened dairy program but also with a $1 billion investment in renewable fuels programs. The latter will be important to northern Minnesota, through research into sugar beet-to-ethanol research as well as cellulostic ethanol research that uses logging waste and switch grasses.

Not often viewed as an agricultural program, the farm bill also includes a forestry title that will aid northern Minnesota loggers in seeking increased capacity for timber harvest on our national forests, the Chippewa and the Superior. Given the tight housing market, availability of wood at reasonable stumpage costs will help keep loggers in the woods.

Is the farm bill perfect? No. It certainly lacks funding for international food crises as we're seeing now across the globe. But it is a bill that provides sweeping changes in ag policy that move us in the right direction.

One way or another, it should become law, and the sooner the better.

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