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Minnesota senator says farm bill is 'tremendous' win for state

WILLMAR -- Minnesota's senators both voted Thursday morning for the 2008 Farm Bill, and Thursday afternoon, they praised funding provisions for feeding hungry people that are paired with a safety net for farmers and funds for development of cellulosic ethanol.

"This is a tremendous victory for Minnesota, at a time when folks are worried about food prices," Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said. He added that the bill, which passed the Senate 81 to 15, provides a safety net for farmers to provide quality, low-cost food.

The bill, having passed the House by a 318-106 vote Wednesday, may be headed for a veto from President Bush, who has called the $290 billion, five-year legislation bloated for not including re- forms the administration had sought. The bill passed both houses with enough votes to override a presidential veto.

Coleman said he was disappointed when Bush announced he would veto the bill and called the wide-margin votes in both houses "the voice of the people."

"This bill contains the most reforms since 1948," Coleman said. "We have met the president more than half way."

Both Coleman and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., pushed for investment in cellulosic ethanol. Both expressed satisfaction that their provisions made the final bill, which allots $1 billion to biofuels research and incentives.

"This is a significant investment in the next generation of renewable, home-grown energy that will help create jobs and new economics in Minnesota and across America," Klobuchar said in a statement.

Coleman pushed for work on ethanol from sugar, using Brazil's use of sugarcane as an example, to add diversity to the feedstocks used for biofuels.

"We have to pull that 'oil needle' from our arms," he said. "This bill provides the funding to move to cellulosic."

Coleman expressed hope that cellulosic ethanol will be a reality by "sometime in my next term as U.S. senator." The former St. Paul mayor is up for election this fall.

The bill also changes eligibility requirements for commodity payments to farmers, making those whose income is more than $500,000 from non-farm income ineligible for payments and those who make more than $750,000 in farm income ineligible for payments. Those changes, a reduction from the previous $2.5 million income limit, were proposed by Klobuchar in an effort to make sure federal dollars go to working farmers. Provisions also stop farmers from collecting subsidies for multiple farm businesses, known as the "three-entity rule."

"This has been an uphill struggle," she said. "But it was worth the effort to make sure that we are spending the public's money wisely and that federal support is going to the nation's hardworking farmers and not to urban millionaires."

The bill would also increase funding for nutrition programs, food stamps and domestic food aid by more than $10 billion over 10 years, adds subsidies for fruit and vegetable crops, extends the Milk Income Loss Contract program for diary producers, increases loan rates for sugar producers and establishes a $3.8 billion fund for weather-related crop losses.

The bill also reduces the per-gallon ethanol tax credit for refiners from 51 to 45 cents and requires country-of -origin labeling for meats and other fresh foods.