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Farm, Nutrition, and Bioenergy Act of 2007 -- Continued

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


FARM, NUTRITION, AND BIOENERGY ACT OF 2007--Continued -- (Senate - December 12, 2007)

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COBURN. First of all, I would like to take just a moment--we had an amendment No. 3530 which I think the committee has agreed to accept and will come to later, but I wanted to spend a moment talking about it.

Over the last 20 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has paid out $1.1 billion to dead farmers. Forty percent of them have been dead over 7 years; 19 percent of them have been dead over 11 years. Yet they continued to pay them. I very much appreciate the chairman and ranking member for their consideration.

What this will do is to make USDA go back and say: If you haven't gotten your estate settled in 2 years, you have to be talking to us rather than us continuing to make farm payments to people who are no longer alive. I appreciate their acceptance of that amendment.

AMENDMENT NO. 3632

I wish to set aside the pending amendment and call up amendment No. 3632.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The amendment is pending.

Mr. COBURN. Thank you, Mr. President. This is a fairly straightforward amendment. It fits with a lot of things they have done in this bill. This is about the EQIP program. This is about environmental capacity to save in terms of runoff, decrease load streams, and do a lot of things in terms of the environment, and the basic goals behind it are good. This amendment is very simple. All it says is that you ought to be a real farmer to get EQIP money.

You ought to get two-thirds of your money from agriculture before you are eligible for getting this money. Why is that a problem? The problem is that our real farmers are not getting the vast majority of the money; it is our nonfarmers. If you buy 160 acres, what the marketing guy says is: I have a way for you to refence this land and build a new pond, and it will increase the value and you can turn around and sell it, except the American taxpayers pay for 40 percent of the improvements on it. You never have to run a head of cattle on it; you never have to raise a crop on it. You can just invest in the land and qualify. That is not the intended purpose for EQIP or why we created it. I believe EQIP funds ought to go for what they are intended. What this does is take the doctor who is play-farming or play-ranching and using American taxpayer money to improve the value of his land so he can turn around in a year and a half and sell it and make money. It doesn't save us anything in terms of the intended purpose of EQIP.

All this says is that if you are a real farmer and you get two-thirds of your income from farming, agriculture, this would not apply to you. But if you are gaming the system, gaming EQIP to advantage yourself, and not as a person in production agriculture but as an investor in land or as a speculator in land, you ought not to be able to use these moneys to increase the value. Fencing hardly improves the environment. Yet we spend money out of EQIP for farms and ranches that are small and are not owned by real farmers but gentlemen farmers who don't produce anything. Yet they go out and have fun on some land they own and they qualify. We ought not to be paying for that with American taxpayer money. It is straightforward. It says you ought to be a real farmer before we allow EQIP money to be used to improve the environmental conditions on your farm.

There is a marked increase in the demand for these EQIP dollars. We see pivots. We can markedly decrease water consumption if we have modern pivots. We help farmers to put them in. We use less water, get less runoff, and do more no-till farming. So the demand for the dollars associated with EQIP, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, was designed for working farms and working ranches, not for the weekend farmer.

The Environmental Quality Incentive Program emerged as the most important USDA program providing financial assistance for conservation on working farms and ranches and is measured by the number of participants and acres under contract--the largest financial assistance conservation program in all of USDA. Yet we have real farmers and ranchers who cannot get enough help to make a difference when it comes to the environment.

I want real farmers who are really in it to produce agriculture to have this money available, and I don't want the American taxpayers paying for somebody else who has the money to do it already but is using their money to enhance the value of their property, and they are not real farmers, not real ranchers, they are not a vegetable farmer, they are not in production agriculture, they are not an orchard farmer, they are not in timber, but, in fact, they own 40 acres of timber, and therefore they qualify even though it is purely an investment and they have no intent to harvest a crop, but they are utilizing taxpayer money.

I reserve the remainder of my time.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COBURN. Will the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. HARKIN. Yes.

Mr. COBURN. If 72 percent of the people getting EQIP money today would not get the money, that means 72 percent of the people who are getting EQIP today get less than 66 percent of the money from agriculture. That is an even bigger problem. In fact, three quarters of the people who are eligible aren't primarily getting the vast majority of their income from agriculture. Yet we are sending three quarters of the money to those people. I see that as an even bigger problem.

Would the chairman work with me to try to figure out a way to exclude those who are advantaging themselves and have no intention of working into an agriculture position as a lifestyle or as a primary vocation? Would he agree to work with me so we might come to a point where we can define the difference between those who are primarily interested in agriculture and building a young farm and excluding those who are using the American taxpayer money to improve the quality of their land so they can turn around and sell it?

Mr. HARKIN. I could not agree with the Senator more. When I hear what he says, the answer is, yes, I wish we could figure out how we do that. We have not done that, and we should do that.

On the 71 percent, that might sound alarming, but that says to me there are a lot of people out there farming who aren't making a lot of money on the farm. They do have some farm income, but think about it this way: people who may be bona fide farmers or ranchers, but they may have another business in town--maybe they are an elevator operator or something, but they are farmers.

I think we have to be very careful about this. I think there are a lot of these people in that 71 percent--I haven't looked at the breakdown--who are these younger farmers and have to have some off-farm income to help make ends meet or maybe they need farm income to put away for college savings or something.

Mr. COBURN. Will the chairman yield for another question?

Mr. HARKIN. Sure.

Mr. COBURN. Would the Senator think a certification as to intent by people who apply for EQIP that their primary vocation is either now or is intended to be agriculture would be a way in which we might accomplish the goal? I am willing to withdraw this amendment if we can work on that.

Mr. HARKIN. That sounds interesting.

Mr. COBURN. I don't want the small farmer to be excluded, but I think the amount of money going to nonfarmers is a lot greater than you think it is. It is not going to real farmers who have real needs and the vast majority of the acres where we are going to make the biggest difference on the environment. I ask if he would work with me between now and the time the bill comes out of conference to see if we cannot address that, and if he would do so, as well as the ranking member, I will ask unanimous consent to withdraw this amendment.

Mr. HARKIN. I give the Senator my word. I want the same thing he wants. It burns me up, too, to see some of these people who buy acres and they get EQIP money to put up a nice pond or a horse shed. I agree with him. Maybe we can get our staffs and get people to think about how we might fashion this to exclude those people from the EQIP program. I would love to see that happen.

Mr. CHAMBLISS. I say to the Senator from Oklahoma, also, he knows I sympathize with him on this issue. We talked about it. He talked to me about a couple of specific instances that are just wrong. I talked earlier today about as hard as we try to prohibit abuses that crop up in farm programs, we know they are there. Whatever we can do to close the loopholes, I would like to do it here. Obviously, I am happy to continue to work with the Senator from Oklahoma.

Mr. HARKIN. If the Senator will yield further, maybe the Senator is onto something in terms of intent or what they are doing, coupled with, perhaps, the productive capacity and what that land is actually producing on an annualized basis.

Mr. COBURN. I think we can work that out.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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