Legislation draws mixed reviews from area farmers

The farm bill signed Monday by President Bush received mixed reactions in the Lawrence area.

Ron Rice, president of the Douglas County Farm Bureau and a farmer southwest of Lawrence, said he hadn’t seen all the details but was happy something was signed.

“As a farmer, I am at least glad to see them get a bill worked out and see that it’s taken care of,” he said.

Rice said the bill gave farmers stability that the 1996 Freedom to Farm bill didn’t provide.

“Congress usually reacted to a crisis in the form of disaster payment due to droughts or whatever, and we were always up in the air whether it was going to be available or not. This kind of assures some support,” he said.

Paul Johnson, an organic vegetable farmer near Perry in rural Jefferson County, said the bill was “business as usual.”

“The majority of the money goes to a very small number of crops, and the bulk of the money goes to the largest farms in the country,” he said.

Johnson is on the board of the Kansas Rural Center, which supports the Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group and its lobbying office in Washington, D.C. He said there were some minor victories in the bill, such as more conservation money for working farms.

“We want to help the full range of farmers with stewardship and conservation packages,” he said. “While we made some incremental progress, we still have a long way to go.”

Johnson said bill also raised the limit on the size of operation that can receive subsidies for pollution controls. In the 1996 farm bill, the subsidy was directed at small- and moderate-sized farms.

“Basically, we’re giving a subsidy to the very largest hog farms and the very largest dairies, and they’re going to drive the smaller independent producers out of business,” he said.

Johnson also said the money should be used to help farmers create micro-enterprise or value-added programs, such as Green Hills Harvest, an organic dairy in north-central Missouri.

Right now, it’s impossible to find locally identified milk product from Kansas, Johnson said.

“Those kind of options are not available now,” he said. “We feel like a piece of the real development money coming out of (U.S. Department of Agriculture) should be helping some of the smaller farms with those options.”