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Farm bill fix sent to Bush

A bill suspending for the 2008 crop year a farm bill provision that requires producers to have a minimum of 10 base acres to receive program benefits was sent to President Bush on late Monday.

The House and Senate each passed by unanimous consent a Senate amendment to the House bill approved last week.

On June 30, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a notice in the Federal Register stating its intent to "not approve requests for farm combination reconstitutions of farms having base acres of 10 acres or less," despite farm bill report language stating that base acreages could be aggregated to allow for farm program eligibility if the sum of acres is over 10. The only exception is in combining acreage where one of the farms undergoes a change in land ownership.

Following the USDA's interpretation would mean the elimination of a large number of base acres affecting hundreds of thousands of producers nationwide, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District, said last week.

The House bill, as amended by the Senate, makes technical corrections to the permanent crop disaster program included in the 2008 Farm Bill. It also temporarily reverses USDA's published notice regarding the farm bill's 10 base-acre provision, which would have denied farm program benefits to hundreds of thousands of producers nationwide by refusing to allow for the aggregation of small base acreage.

"This is good news for thousands of farmers who rent or lease smaller tracks of land for their farms," Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., author of the bill and chairman of the House Agriculture General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee, said in a statement Monday.

"It allows farmers to continue to receive payments for the work they do on small farms, and ensures that our rural economy stays strong," said Etheridge. "I will begin working immediately to provide a permanent solution to the USDA's extremely narrow interpretation of the 10-base-acre provision."

The House had already passed last week its version of the bill that would have suspended the 10 base acre provision for two years and was fully paid for under congressional "paygo rules," offsetting the estimated $20 million by decreasing information technology upgrades to the Commodity Credit Corp. The Senate amended the bill to provide just a one-year fix.