Farm leaders say the farm bill signed into law by President George Bush on May 13 is a ‘mixed bag’ that, although not perfect, is an improvement over current law.

Ben Lilliston, communications coordinator for the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agricultural Trade Policy, applauded the measure’s provisions dealing with conservation and requiring ‘country of origin’ labeling of food products sold on the U.S. market. ‘And for the first time we have a farm program that addresses the question of renewable energy.’

‘However,’ he said, ‘it does not address the problems of fair prices and market concentration by a handful of processors such as Cargil and Iowa Beef. And it does nothing to force the Justice Department to enforce the anti-trust laws.’

The bill raises subsidy rates for grain and cotton growers, brings back subsidies for wool and honey producers and provides new payments for milk, peanuts, lentils and dry peas. There is an 80 percent increase in spending on land-conservation programs that will benefit livestock farms and fruit and vegetable growers who historically get little federal cash.

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Dave Frederickson said that although the legislation ‘was not perfect,’ it has several worthwhile provisions: a nationwide safety net for dairy producers, a prohibition of farm benefits to the wealthiest landowners and Fortune 500 companies and increased funding for conservation and rural development.

Frederickson said NFU will continue to demand legislation outlawing ownership of livestock by meatpackers, targeting farm program benefits to family farmers and normalizing agricultural trade with Cuba.

South Dakota Farmers Union President Dennis Wiese called the bill a ‘significant win in the face of some pretty expensive and intensive lobbying efforts.’ He said the legislation provides family farmers andranchers with an ‘improved opportunity to earn a living.’

Leaders of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) were not so generous. ‘The 2002 Farm Bill spells disaster for family farmers,’ said Bill Christison, a Missouri grain farmer, and president of the coalition. ‘This legislation guarantees that agri-business giants like Cargil and ADM can continue to buy grain at less than the cost of production. The lack of a ban on meatpackers owning livestock means that processors can keep artificially manipulating the market by using their own hogs to depress livestock.’

Christison added that the bill ‘is bad for family farmers all over the world. There is universal denouncement of the bill by international farmer groups, because they know that the push by corporate agribusiness to depress prices for farmers knows no borders.’

The battle over a farm bill began last year between a Democratic-controlled Senate, a House of Representatives controlled by the GOP and a White House firmly committed to a ‘free’ market for agriculture. What emerged was a House/Senate compromise that left out many of the provisions in the Senate bill drafted by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and approved by the Senate earlier this year. The compromise measure cleared the House by a 280-141 vote and a 64-35 vote in the Senate.

Senators voting in favor of the farm bill included Johnson of South Dakota, Wellstone of Minnesota and Harkin of Iowa, all of whom face tough re-election battles this year.

The author can be reached at


Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries