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Bill appeals to Southern farmers

By Ben Evans
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — Southern growers are optimistic about the farm bill that passed the Senate Agriculture Committee this week.

Like House legislation that passed in July, the Senate measure would largely continue price supports
for commodity crops such as cotton, peanuts and rice that drive the region's agriculture economy.

"We think it's probably as good a compromise as we could make," said Sam Spruell, a cotton farmer from Mount Hope and chairman of Southern Cotton Growers Inc., which represents farmers in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Virginia.

Peanut farmers also said they were satisfied. Although the bill would hold peanut price supports roughly flat for another five years, it includes payments for storage costs in bad years. It also would help farmers cover the costs of extending their planting rotations, allowing their soil more time to recuperate.

More balanced

Specialty crop growers said the bill was more balanced than in past years. For example, they praised an expansion of the Agriculture Department's fruit and vegetable snack program in schools.

"We knew we would have less money to operate with this year ... but at the end of the day I think we hit all of our targets," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Agriculture Committee. "I think we fared pretty well."

Chambliss said the bill, which won unanimous support in committee but faces opposition, would likely come up for a floor vote in early November.

Opponents say the $280 billion measure benefits wealthy farmers too much and should devote more to conservation programs, reducing the federal deficit and boosting food aid for the poor.

President Bush has proposed reducing subsidy payments to individuals who make more than $200,000, and he has threatened to veto the House bill that sets an income cap of $1 million a year.

The Senate measure does not set income limits for receiving payments, although it would eventually ban payments to landholding "nonfarmers" whose income averages more than $750,000 a
year. The bill defines farmers as those who earn more than two-thirds of their income from agriculture.

Farm groups, who have lobbied heavily on the bill, say profit margins in the industry are small for all but the largest of producers. They say the subsidies in the bill ensure that farmers can survive when crop prices are low.

"This money helps the economies of rural communities across the country," said Armond Morris, a peanut farmer from Ocilla, Ga., who is chairman of the Georgia Peanut Commission. "It goes to the bank. It goes to the seed dealer. It goes to the tractor shop."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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