Mowed down

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  August 15, 2007

“In Maine we ought look at our natural-resource-based industries as a real staple to our economy,” says Flannery, of the Potato Board. “One of the reasons that Maine is the way it is, is because of its natural-resource-based industries.

“I don’t think we ought to be looking at it in terms of subsidies,” Flannery continues — he doesn’t want to compare Maine’s funding with that in the Midwest. “I think we should be looking at infrastructure,” and ways to add value to the existing crops here, he says.

The Senate is expected to take up the Farm Bill in September. President Bush has vowed to veto the Farm Bill if it survives in its House form, saying it is too expensive and employs new taxes to pay for certain items, like efforts to fight hunger (see sidebar, "It Affects Urbanites, Too"). Democrats say the money won't come from new taxes, per se, but instead from a new requirement that foreign-owned companies with US-based subsidiaries would pay taxes on the American parts of their businesses. Democrats say it’s closing a tax loophole; Republicans cry tax increase.

There’s reason to be optimistic that the House-Senate conference committee, to hammer out differences between the two bills, will strike a compromise, but it’s unclear how much Bush is willing to bend. Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told the Associated Press that he thought the Kind-Flake amendment was “a little bit too much, too soon.” However, he also said that he hopes to include slightly tougher income limits to qualify for subsidies (somewhere between the $250,000 in the Kind-Flake bill and the $1 million of the House version).

Neither Maine senator is on the Senate Ag Committee, but Senator Susan Collins, like Tom Allen, voted against the 2002 Farm Bill for fiscal reasons. This time around, her office said in a statement, the bill “must achieve a regional balance to win her support. One of her primary concerns is that a disproportionate level of funding may be allocated to large agri-business in the form of wasteful federal crop subsidies at the expense of programs that benefit family farmers, such as those in Maine.” Senator Olympia Snowe voted for the 2002 bill, but has been vocal in her support for specialty crops, agricultural labor provisions, and dairy farmers. We’ll watch for any specifics on her position as the bill goes through committee.

Unlike its House counterpart, the Senate Agriculture Committee does include a senator who champions Northeastern interests — Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont. As in Maine, Vermont has a vibrant dairy-farming industry, and Leahy will undoubtedly fight to protect the Milk Income Loss Contract program, which protects dairy farmers from fluctuating prices, and which also managed to get through unchanged from the past in this year’s House bill. Libby describes Leahy’s spot on the committee as “good for new England — because without that voice we’d be invisible.”

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Deirdre Fulton: dfulton@phx.com

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