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Farm bill front and center
Rice subsidies, 1995-2011:
Yuba County: 447 recipients, $147.5 million
Sutter County: 1,418 recipients, $450.3 million
Top states for farm subsidies, 2011:
1. Iowa: $469 million
2. Illinois: $407 million
3. Texas: $380 million
4. Kansas: $310 million
5. Nebraska: $303 million
14. California: $128 million
Source: Environmental Working Group
As lawmakers in Washington, DC, work to decide which bills they will take up this year, farmers across the nation are monitoring the progress of a new farm bill.
Congress failed to pass a farm bill last year, despite being approved by the Senate and House agriculture committees. The 2008 bill was extended to Sept. 30, part of the "fiscal cliff" deal to prevent milk prices from skyrocketing.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the Senate would consider the farm bill.
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said Wednesday that nothing formal has happened on the bill, but that the introduction by Reid is a "big deal," and a clear sign that the Senate considers it a high priority.
However, considering House Speaker John Boehner didn't allow the bill to go to vote last year, Garamendi said it's unclear what his opinion is.
"There has to be some clarity from the speaker as to what he and his caucus wants in the bill," Garamendi said.
The congressman said the five-year farm bills that were produced last year had changes to improve California agriculture. Those included support for rice in the House bill and research and marketing for specialty crops. There were proposals in the bills dealing with abuse and fraud, Garamendi said, especially in the food security programs.
"Improvements that were both in House and Senate bills didn't find their way into the extension," he said. "Extension of the old bill does not have any of the policy changes for the specialty crops — peaches to prunes to olives — which are critical for California."
The House Agriculture Committee assignments for the 113th Congress haven't yet been decided, Garamendi said, but that he has made a "strong pitch" to be on it.
Garamendi has a cattle-ranching background and jointly runs a pear orchard at his home in Walnut Grove and a cattle ranch in Calaveras County.
Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Farmers keep watch
Yuba County rice farmer Charley Mathews said the farm bill was extremely helpful to the rice industry in the past, and that he has been a recipient of subsidies. He is hoping Washington will get to a closer balance of income and expense, and said the debt hurts everyone.
"We probably had a better farm bill put together since they just extended this one," Mathews said. "With gridlock, it's very difficult to do what would be the proper farm bill at this point."
Mathews said if prices go down, the farming industry would need a safety net.
Joe Carrancho, president and manager of J.A. Carrancho Farms Inc. in Maxwell, said he was relieved that the bill was extended, but that he is worried about next year and rising expenses.
"The tax thing is weighing heavily on anyone who's a small farmer, or even a big farmer. Small businessmen, we're all going to be in trouble," Carrancho said.
California Rice Commission chairman Charley Mathews Jr. said that in the early '90s, direct payments were about 30 percent to 40 percent of the revenue side, and today, that same payments are not even 10 percent. Direct payments were created in the mid-1980s, he said, with the idea to make US agriculture competitive with other countries.
— Laura van der Meer