On March 22, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) introduced legislation to tighten payment limits on federal farm programs and close loopholes mega-farms use to evade payment limits. This is the most important step Congress can take to strengthen family farms.
The Grassley-Johnson bill has a hard cap on marketing loan gains of $75,000 ($150,000 for a couple). The remainder of the payment limit would cap the total amount a farmer can receive in safety-net payments generally. For instance, if the Congress were to adopt a shallow loss program, the Grassley-Johnson bill would set a limit of $50,000 ($100,000 for a couple) that an individual could receive.
Moreover, the bill would limit payments to active farmers who work the land and their landlords. It sets a measurable standard for someone to qualify as actively engaged in farming by providing true management for the operation. Weaker current law allows investors who participate in one or two conference calls to be considered active farmers, allowing mega-farms to get around payment limitations by claiming uninvolved investors as active partners.
Americans, rural and urban, want to support family farmers. However, Congress has allowed rhetoric to take the place of reform, allowing the nation's largest farms to receive virtually unlimited subsidies, drive up land costs and drive their smaller neighbors off the land. During tight budgetary times, there is no excuse for not saving taxpayer dollars and protecting small and mid-sized family farms by enacting the Grassley-Johnson farm payment limits.
-- John Crabtree, Center for Rural Affairs, Lyons, Neb.