By a vote of 84 to 15, the U.S. Senate on Friday morning, passed an amendment to the ag appropriations bill that was introduced by Senator Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that would prohibit Farm Bill direct payments to anyone with an Adjusted Gross Income over $1 million. Coburn argued that the government shouldn't be subsidizing the highest earning farmers at a time of deep budget deficits.
On Monday during a conference call with members of the media, Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst was asked about the Senate vote and Farm Bureau's take on it.
"Well, Farm Bureau's long time position is to oppose payment limits on commodity programs," Hurst said. "Farm Bills are not effective if you keep larger farmers from participating, and we've always opposed those and we will this time as well."
In a speech Monday in Ankeny, Iowa, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that no one should be surprised that some current programs will no longer be funded including direct payments.
"Farmers rely on a strong safety net," Vilsack said. "But the safety net must reflect the diversity of U.S. agriculture. The programs must be simple and understandable." But most important, according to the Secretary, "the safety net has to be acceptable to the other 98% of the population. Agriculture is always risky but good policy can minimize those risks."
Similar votes to limit direct payments have failed in the past, and many think this vote is a turning point in how the Senate views farm support.
"I do think sentiment has changed," says former Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, a Democrat who pushed for years to lower subsidy limits. "When they are under this much pressure to cut spending they have to take an honest look at what's happening, and you can't justify direct payments under these circumstances."