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California Farms Benefit from Farm Bill

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

Low income families in California got a big lift in the new Farm Bill . Avocado and strawberry growers also got some attention. Sara Sciammacco has more from Washington. 

The bulk of the bill, nearly 70%, is spent on helping people who can't afford food. California will get about $40 million to pay for food st38s, stock local pantries and get more fruits and vegetables into schools. Democrat Bob Filner says it is a good bill for families and farmers.

Filner: "Half of my district is a farming area so those people are very aware of the Farm bill and we are overwhelming for it. But if you are in an urban dist! rict people aren't aware that there are nutrition programs, there are environmental programs in a bill that is called the Farm bill. They just don't know what is in it." 

Well for the first time there is money in the bill for specialty crop farmers, those who grow fruits, vegetables and nuts. California is the country's top specialty crop state. Avocado, strawberry, and citrus growers can use dollars to market their crops and find ways to combat pests and disease. Rayne Thompson is with the California Farm Bureau Federation .

Thompson: "As you know we have a lot of people that come in and out of the state of California so therefore there is the increased risk of new pests and diseases being introduced and San Diego is fully aware of that with diaprepes and other pests that are in the area." 

For California farmers who grow cotton, rice, and wheat, they'll continue getting subsidy payments. But lawmakers say it is unlikely farmers will cash in like they have done in the past because crop prices are high. $1 billion went to California farmers over a 3 year period beginning in 2003. Republican Darrell Issa voted against the Farm Bill saying the handouts are costing taxpayers too much.

ISSA: "Are there some things in it for California of course, on balance is it a huge waste of money and something Republicans have vowed not to do, yah. But you don't vote for things because something is coming to your district, you vote for something overall whether it is right or wrong and on balance I thought it was wrong." 

Under the new Farm Bill, farmers grossing more than $1 million can still get money from the government. Even some who supported the bill, like Democrat Lois Capps , say the reforms to subsidy payments could have gone further.

Capps: "It is hard to break old habits, but I think given notice hopefully some of the constituencies nationally who have gotten pretty big handouts in the past will begin to say to themselves we are not going to be able to rely on this money from the federal government in the future so we better look for changes in our resources and funding sources or changes in their operation. 

Capps points out subsidy payments make up a very small amount of the bill's spending, while other monies are directed towards conservation programs to protect wetlands and improve water and air quality. Republican Brian Bilbray says he couldn't vote for the bill because it supports the continuation of increased ethanol production.

Bilbray: "Our scientists told us back in 1992 that ethanol was an environmentally damaging fuel so this bill continues that subsidy and encouragement though it reduces it some degree but that is major concern over the Farm Bill as it constitutes." 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took some heat from Republicans for including a last minute earmark to help California's salmon industry. President Bush says the bill is full of these types of gimmicks. But the House and Senate got enough votes to override his veto.

From Capitol News Connection in Washington, I'm Sara Sciammacco for KPBS News.

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