Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Why We Need a Farm Bill


from the Boston Globe

By Gus Schumacher | May 26, 2008

THE FARM BILL that Congress has overwhelmingly supported over President Bush's veto has taken a beating from many pundits and editorial boards, especially in the Northeast. Yet there are good reasons even for New Englanders to favor this bill, especially over the status quo.

The bill certainly should be better. It should include more reform on the commodity titles during this era of high prices for wheat, corn, and soybeans, and use savings from commodity reforms to provide additional support for nutrition, conservation, and healthy food, especially for America's 40 million poor. Reduction of the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program for overseas schoolchildren at a time of spiking world food prices was especially hurtful.

But there is no question that the bill is better than the veto option proposed by the president. By using his veto pen, President Bush wanted to extend the existing, flawed, and out-of-date 2002 farm bill into the future.

The new bill should be called the Farm and Nutrition Bill. In fact, most of the money in the bill, some 74 percent, is allocated to help America's poor put food on their table and improve their nutrition and diets. To address the growing problem of diabetes and obesity in our children, the new bill also includes $1 billion for the free fresh fruits and vegetable snack program for schools.

Adding another $2 billion annually, Congress will now provide some $40 billion each year to help feed the poorest 11 percent of Americans. For Massachusetts, an estimated 432,000 will benefit just from the improved food stamp provisions of this new legislation. America's working poor will find their local food banks better stocked with an additional $1 billion through provisions in the Emergency Food Assistance Program for Food Banks.

The bill also provides needed resources to protect New England's working farms, to improve the region's water quality and wildlife habitat, advance domestic, renewable energy, promote healthier foods, and expand farmers' markets supporting our local food systems.

Under the current bill, more than 60 percent of the region's farmers with pending applications to improve conservation practices are turned down for lack of funds, and nearly 40 percent of our farmers asking for support to provide permanent farmland protection easements on their farms await support.

New England's farmers want to continue as good stewards of the land. This bill will do just that, helping them to further clean our water and air, preserve our diminishing farmland, and build wildlife habitat. This will help address the backlog of farmers who have wanted to participate in programs but have been turned away due to lack of funds.

In New England, more than 1,000 farmers have applied for conservation and farmland protection funding in recent years, only to be told "no funding." To ensure we protect our local farms from sprawling development, the new Farm Bill nearly doubles funding for the farm and ranchland protection program to reduce this backlog.

This new law makes an unprecedented commitment to support locally produced food and expand access to these healthy products for all. Expanded resources will support additional free fruit and vegetable vouchers for seniors at farmers' markets, such as at the new Allston/Brighton farmers' market and the three new farmers' markets located near health clinics in Dorchester. It will also provide new sources of loan capital to develop locally grown food businesses and support the many farmers in New England making the transition to organic systems. The new bill allows schools flexibility to purchase locally in their school meals programs, to create new markets for local farmers, and to bring just-picked fresh fruits and vegetables to local schools.

The benefits of the new Farm and Nutrition Bill are clear. New England needs it to support our vulnerable families at a difficult time.

Gus Schumacher is the former Massachusetts commissioner of food and agriculture.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

On Ethicurean: What 1974 has to do with 2008

This is on Ethicurean, it is written by Daryll E. Ray, who holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy at the University of Tennessee and directs UT’s Agricultural Policy Analysis Center (APAC). He is perhaps best known for lead-authoring “Rethinking U.S. Agriculture Policy: Changing Course to Secure Farmer Livelihoods Worldwide,” a debate-changing paper published in 2003. His articles and other work are available at www.agpolicy.org. The piece below, written with APAC Research Associate Harwood D. Schaffer, offers an historical perspective on today’s global food crisis.Times of crisis often shine a bright light on long-standing problems. That was just as true in 1974 as it is today.

"In mid-1974, agricultural commodity prices were triple the level of two years earlier and concern was raised that malnutrition in developing countries was on the rise. We now find ourselves in a similar situation: agricultural commodity prices are two-and-one-half times the level they were at the start of this recent surge in prices and the portion of the world’s malnourished is on the rise.

To put the current circumstances in perspective, we find it helpful to look back at the earlier crisis and see what lessons can be learned. The World Food Conference met in Rome in November, 1974 as agricultural prices hovered near their peak and people were dying as the result of famines, particularly in Bangladesh.

The goal of the conference was to “develop [the] ways and means whereby the international community, as a whole, could take specific action to resolve the world food problem within the broader context of development and international economic cooperation.” In the Conference Report to the United Nations [.doc], representatives of 135 states adopted the Universal Declaration on the Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition. The goal established was to eradicate “hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition within a decade.”

That goal was not met, and in the intervening decades, the issues of hunger and malnutrition have often fallen off the radar screen of the media and the general public. It takes a devastating famine or a price spike like the current one to garner the world’s attention, and even that attention could be fleeting.

No matter what one thinks about the advisability of using crops for the production of biofuels, the current crisis — culminating in food riots in more than 30 countries — did not develop in just the last 24 months. It has been a long time in the making and the challenges are far more profound than the “food vs. fuel” debate makes it seem. (more…)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Farm Bill Update from Tom Philpott--grist.org

Congress (almost) passes a farm bill; Bush vows to veto
How should sustainable-food advocates respond to the latest farm bill proposal?
Posted by Tom Philpott at 4:59 PM on 08 May 2008

For months now, the 2007 farm bill has been in limbo, tied up in reconciliation negotiations between the House and the Senate.

On Thursday, the bicameral Farm Bill Conference Report agreed on a final proposal. The latest version will go to the larger House and Senate next week for approval; if all goes well, it will finally go to President Bush's desk.

But since this wouldn't be the 2007 farm bill without a final dose of drama, negotiations seem far from over. "The President will veto this bill," USDA chair Ed Schafer bluntly declared in a Thursday afternoon communique.

The sticking point is subsidy reform, or lack thereof. "This legislation lacks meaningful farm program reform and expands the size and scope of government," Schafer stated.

Many sustainable-ag and rural advocates would cheer a Bush veto. On the Center for Rural Affairs blog, Dan Owens recently laid out their case:

We will have the opportunity to fight again, and ... I have real hope that we can do better, that we can win more, that we can get a farm bill that is better than the one about to pass Congress. And we can try again in 2009. But if the bill becomes law, we will have to wait until 2013.

Others, however, disagree. They argue that the bill contains valuable provisions that need to be passed -- small victories that will be surrendered if farm policy reverts to the 2002 farm bill.

Below I'll try to sketch out what this latest version contains. I'll also be trying to get movers and shakers in the sustainable-ag/food-justice world to give their perspectives.

The most controversial bit in this farm bill is the commodity title -- the program through which the government ostensibly tries to smooth out the financial uncertainty of farming. The title has evolved over the years into a funnel that delivers the great bulk of the title's cash to the largest farms, doing little to balance out swings in supply and demand.

Bush wants to cut the subsidies because they have become a sticking point in global trade deals, and presumably because of Iraq-related budgetary concerns. Most sustainable-ag advocates would like to see them replaced with more equitable and effective ways of smoothing out supply and demand troubles -- ones that benefit farmers and consumers, not the few agro-industrial corporations that dominate our food system.

This Associated Press piece digs into the details of the current commodity title, and how the limits it places on subsidies fall short of what critics including the Bush administration had wanted. In an emailed communique (Word doc), the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition summarized the title like this:

Comprehensive payment limitation reform was not included in the bill. ... the net result is no change in the highly skewed status quo on payment limits for direct and counter-cyclical payments.

The latest version also includes a controversial "permanent assistance fund" worth $3.8 billion. A couple of months ago on Gristmill, Britt Lundgren and Jason Funk of Environmental Defense Fund called this provision a "a disaster for taxpayers, most farmers, and the environment." They say it encourages farmers to cultivate disaster-prone land. Bush, too, has sharply criticized this provision.

If the commodity title and the disaster fund are considered a disappointment, other provisions -- ones that, unhappily, involve far less money -- have drawn support.

The Community Food Security Coalition reported in a Thursday email that the new version contains funding for Community Food Projects -- vitally important programs designed to bring fresh, healthy food to places that now have little access. Writes acting policy director Steph Larsen:

The great news is that Community Food Projects (CFP) is in the final language, and we have $5 million in annual mandatory funding for the next 10 years! As you may recall, this year we started out with no money due to new congressional budget rules that cuts the funding for small programs. New language for CFP should fix this problem so that for the next Farm Bill, CFP will be able to build on the $5 million instead of starting from scratch with zero dollars. And with mandatory funding, we will not have to fight for these dollars every year.

Larsen added the bill also allows public schools to favor local farms in bids for school food. "This change will eliminate [a major] barrier for schools to support local agriculture and will make Farm to School programs easier to establish."

(Before anyone gets too excited, the bill does not add any funding to the miserly National School Lunch Program budget. Now schools can theoretically buy local; but they still have $.70-$1.00 to spend per day on ingredients for each kid's lunch.)

The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition also points to several victories, especially with regard to the Conservation Title. This title tries to balance the produce-as-much-as-possible thrust of the Commodity Title by giving farmers incentives to manage their land in ecologically sound ways.

The SAC declared the Conservation Title in the current version an overall "win," since it delivers "$4 billion net increase in mandatory spending, combined with $2.5 billion in savings from Conservation Reserve Program, for total new funding of $6.5 billion, and a continued rebalancing toward working lands conservation."

SAC also points to several "wins" in boosting funding for organic agriculture, including a "nearly five-fold increase to help cover the costs of organic certification," and a "a seven-fold increase" in funding for organic farming research and extension." It should be noted, though, these outlays amount to sums in the tens of millions over five years, while the cash devoted to industrial-scale farming runs to billions every year.

As for my beloved "packer ban," which would have forbidden meat packers like Tyson and Smithfield from owning livestock -- well, that didn't survive negotiations.

So, should the sustainable-ag community support a presidential veto -- or fight for a Congressional override?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

New generation at farmers markets from Russ Parsons, LA TIMES

From the Los Angeles Times
Farmers markets, the next generation
As farmers age and retire, markets need new blood. A new generation of growers is appearing: idealistic newcomers, immigrants and family following in their parents' footsteps.
By Russ Parsons
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

May 7, 2008

THERE'S been a changing of the guard at the Coleman Family Farm stand at the Santa Monica Farmers Market on Wednesday mornings. Ask Bill Coleman a question and he's likely to answer, "Ask Romey."

Romey -- Romeo on his birth certificate -- is Coleman's son and though his eventually becoming the boss was expected, it nonetheless comes as a bit of a surprise to longtime market shoppers who might still think of him as the kid they watched grow up.

"I remember junior high summers, my dad would stuff us all in the front of the van and we'd drive to the Wednesday market," says Romeo, who is now 38 and sometimes brings his own two kids to the market. "This has always been a dream for me."

Though the handing down of a 6-acre farm is hardly newsworthy -- no matter how idyllic that spot might be -- the transition at Coleman Family Farm is part of a much larger picture.

One of the key questions facing farmers markets in the next decade is just who is going to replace the rapidly graying growers who led the green revolution of the last 30 years. Where will the next generation come from?

Will the markets, drawing on young farmers with new products and fresh ideas, continue to thrive and evolve as they have over the last 20 years, when the number of shoppers attending them more than tripled? Or, as more farmers hit retirement age, will the markets gradually dwindle and diminish?

More older farmers

IN GENERAL, experts say, new farmers market growers tend to come from one of three groups: young idealists looking for a rural lifestyle, immigrants who use farmers markets to make money from small plots of land, and those like Coleman who inherit family farms.

The problem of aging farmers is not unique to growers markets. During the last quarter of the 20th century the percentage of all farmers older than 65 increased from 16% to 26%. That compares with only about 3% of the total American workforce who are that age. And fully half of all American farmers are older than 55.

But the trend is especially noticeable at farmers markets, because the generation of farmers who led their boom in popularity during the 1980s and 1990s still predominate.

Though new faces do show up, they are a definite minority. At the bigger and more popular markets, there might be only one or two new farmers a year.

Though scores of new growers were certified for farmers markets during each of the boom years, more recently that flood has slowed to a trickle.

According to the agricultural commissioners offices of San Diego, Ventura and Riverside counties -- the areas that supply the lion's share of Southern California market farmers -- the number of certified farmers market growers has stayed about the same for the last several years.

"Each year we pick up between five and 10 new producers, but we lose about the same number," says Ron Bray of the Riverside County Agricultural Commissioner's office.

Today the shortage of new farmers mainly means it's more difficult to open new markets, but the implications for the future are more serious as greater numbers of farmers hit retirement age and quit.

"It's crucial that we continue to find young farmers because many farmers are retiring and if we want to continue this wonderful thing we have going on at farmers markets, we need to recruit a new generation to continue what has been done," says Pompea Smith of the organization Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles, which manages seven Southern California farmers markets, including the popular Sunday market in Hollywood.

Any newcomer who wants to enter farming faces sizable hurdles. First and foremost, of course, is the price of land. Then there is the inevitable learning curve that goes with any new profession.

And then there's the problem of getting into the larger, more profitable markets, which often have waiting lists that can be years long, particularly for farmers who grow commonly available produce.

Those farmers have to go to several smaller markets each week to make the same income they might generate from two or three big markets. Often that means five or six days a week of packing up before dawn and driving several hours into the city.

Greenhorns to green thumbs

CHRISTOPHER and Johanna Finley of Finley Farms have grappled with all of those issues. They run a popular stand at the Sunday Hollywood market as well as at several markets in the Santa Barbara area and they are in the middle of the small-grower learning curve.

The couple, who embody the young, idealistic farmers market growers, met when they were both working at farmers market stands while attending UC Santa Barbara -- he was an environmental studies major and she studied ceramics. Finding their student jobs more interesting than their undergraduate training, four years ago they started to farm a 1-acre plot they rented north of Goleta.

Because farmers markets were already full of growers selling the same mix of tomatoes, peppers and herbs that they had, the Finleys had to chop up their produce and bottle it as salsa to secure a spot selling at even the smaller Santa Barbara area markets.

"It was a lot of work but we liked it," says Johanna, who is 29. Christopher just turned 30. "We could see the potential but we didn't want to do salsa anymore."

They decided to expand to grow a wider range of crops. They moved to a 1 1/2 -acre plot in the Santa Ynez Valley and bought their first tractor. The next year they started leasing more land from a neighbor, adding another 4 acres. The third year they added a little more leased land to bring them to a total of 10 acres.

Now, the Finleys grow kale, chard and mustard in the winter. There are peas in the fall and spring along with lettuce, arugula and spinach. Summer is sweet corn, melons and tomatoes.

"Anything we could grow in season, I think we've tried it," she says. "We're still in that phase of wanting to grow everything to see what sells and find out what our particular niche is. Everything we grow, we try to specialize in varieties that not everyone is doing."

It's a long and sometimes bumpy road. Some problems are mundane: Finding the cheapest top-quality seeds was one hurdle. Finding out where to buy produce-shipping boxes was another.

But sometimes they're more serious. A couple of weeks ago, a sudden frost killed all their zucchini plants. "We woke up and they were gone," Johanna says. "There's not anything we can do about it. We'll just have to get more seed and start again.

"With farming, there are always mistakes but there is always another season to get it right. And having a variety of products, if one fails, you're not wiped out because you've put everything into one product.

"It's a struggle, but we're lucky enough to be able to make ends meet," says Johanna, "We don't own our own land or any of those other things, but it's just a great way of life. I don't think I could be working for someone else right now."

For Juan Garcia and his son Armando, farmers markets allowed them to create a business of their own rather than just work for other people. Juan immigrated to north San Diego County from Michoacan in 1975 and went to work for Durling Nursery, a first-rate grower of fruit trees. Today, he's a foreman there supervising 50 workers.

But at the same time he was learning that job, with the help of his son he was striking out as an entrepreneur. Starting with just 9 acres purchased in 1990, he and Armando have gradually put together a farm near Fallbrook that now totals 27 acres of citrus, avocado, tropical fruit and mulberry trees.

"We basically just started putting some money aside," Juan Garcia says. "It was a lot of hard work, I'll tell you. But because I was working at the nursery I was able to get informed on everything coming out that was new. We've really concentrated on getting our hands on the good stuff."

Armando Garcia is a 29-year-old spark plug who practically chases customers down to get them to taste his Page tangerines. "You've got to try this, man, it's the bomb!" he says. And he's right. The fruit has the kind of flavor that only comes with great land, the best varieties and careful farming.

But even with all of that going for them, it might have been a different story had Armando not gotten a part-time job working for another farmers market grower while he and his father were establishing their orchards.

When the trees matured and produced fruit, Armando sold it at his friend's stands. Eventually, he took them over, and today Garcia Organic has coveted spots at Santa Monica's Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday markets.

But in most cases, a new farmer doesn't necessarily mean a new farm. Instead, especially at the more profitable markets, established growers pass along their sweet spots to their kids.

At Santa Monica's Wednesday market, right next to the Coleman's stand is Coastal Farms, where Mark Carpenter is working alongside mother Maryanne and father Paul, selling lettuce, squash and grape tomatoes.

A little farther along is Gloria Tamai, part of a farmers market family that is going on four generations (her sister-in-law Daisy is usually helping out at Green Farms on the other side of Arizona Avenue).

The chain started with their father, Jim Tamai, who, along with Bill Coleman, was among the first farmers at the Santa Monica market. He passed away last spring and now, in addition to the two daughters and a daughter-in-law, there are eight grandchildren in the business as well.

Also nearby is Maggie's Farm, run by Dennis Peitso and his son Nate.

And just up Arizona Avenue is Harry's Berries, run by the combined Gean and Iwamoto families and named for the late patriarch, Harry Iwamoto, who got them started growing strawberries for the farmers markets. Today Kaz and Yoshiko Iwamoto run the business side, and Molly and her husband, Rick Gean, supervise the farming and the selling. In addition, there are five assorted children and grandchildren working the markets.

A successful handoff

AS WITH all family businesses, the transition from one generation to the next isn't always seamless. Molly Gean says the secret to Harry's Berries' success was each person focusing on what he or she does best and staying out of the others' ways. "I'd say we try to avoid conflict by staying in our own corners."

"It's funny how attached we get to doing something the way we've always done it," says Bill Coleman, whose gruff demeanor is legendary. "I finally came to the realization that I'm not that important anymore. There's somebody else who is doing what I used to do and he's doing a really good job, too.

"And I'll tell you what, the first time someone came up to me and asked me how it felt to have my son following in my footsteps, I almost cried. I'm so lucky, so very lucky."

For Romeo, the future is a little more mixed. As in love as he is with the farming life, he also realizes "my longest vacation from now on is going to be six days, and I'm never going to have another Wednesday off."

Sunday, May 4, 2008


Wow, much to read on mulchblog.com!
Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group, a public interest research and advocacy organization sums up two articles he believes are must reads on the farm bill, one I've copied in the post below, "Farm Bill upends normal political order." Tough to read if you're a critic of President Bush and a supporter of Nancy Pelosi.

If you are confused and squirming, read this blogger, who wants you to see Bush in context and if you heard that Pres. Bush recommended eating local foods, read more here... http://expatriateskitchen.blogspot.com/

Thanks to cleanerplateclub.wordress.com for the lead. http://cleanerplateclub.wordpress.com/

Yesterday, May 3, 2008, Ken Cook on mulchblog.com quotes from the Wall Street Journal on The Ethanol Boom: " Washington's Having Second Thoughts".... http://www.mulchblog.com

"Farm bill upends normal political order"

Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Bureau

Sunday, May 4, 2008
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Associated Press photo by Jim...

(05-04) 04:00 PDT Washington - -- It is the rarest of moments: President Bush and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are on a collision course over a giant farm bill, but it is Bush who is broadly aligned with liberal Bay Area activists pushing for reform, while the San Francisco Democrat is protecting billions of dollars in subsidies to the richest farmers.

A conference committee approved on Thursday most of a nearly $300 billion farm bill that will lock in the nation's food policy and environmental stewardship on millions of acres of private land for the next five years. Hoping to survive a veto, lawmakers doled out money to everyone from thoroughbred racehorse owners to food-stamp recipients.

The package melds last year's House and Senate farm bills for votes in both chambers before going to the White House. Several controversies remain to be worked out this week. The administration threatened a veto, with Bush deriding a "massive, bloated" effort.

Lawmakers are betting that Bush will not dare kill a $10.3 billion increase in nutrition spending such as food stamps, which make up the bulk of the bill, or anger farm-state Republicans in an election year. If he does, they plan to override him.

Congress has its bases covered. Each interest group represented in the sprawling legislation - from tiny Santa Cruz organic vegetable growers to Georgia cotton magnates, from conservationists to prairie-plowers - gets enough money that it would prefer this bill rather than start over with a new president.

Farm bills come around just once every five years and usually fly under the radar of most lawmakers and the public, making it easy for Congress to tout the bills as aid to family farmers. The commodity supports - born as temporary economic aids in the 1930s - are mind-numbingly complicated and get little notice outside the farm press, despite their enormous impact on U.S. food policy. Urban lawmakers are normally happy to vote for crop subsidies in exchange for food-stamp votes from rural lawmakers. It is textbook political logrolling.

This year looked different. The local-food movement, concentrated in the Bay Area, increased attention on subsidy-driven distortions that supercharge the industrialization of agriculture, boost corn-based sugars, fats and starches in the U.S. diet and undermine poor farmers overseas.

California, the nation's farming giant, stepped into the bargaining. Produce growers, left out of crop subsidies since the 1930s, demanded marketing aid. Long-neglected organic growers were desperate for research help. Public health advocates wanted healthier school lunches. Environmentalists saw millions of acres of private land ripe for conservation and improved farming practices to reduce water and air pollution.

These groups allied with budget hawks to try to shift aid from commodities to healthier food and more sustainable farming.

The administration proposed a farm bill two years ago that would have cut off payments to wealthy farmers, modernized subsidies, and moved money to nutrition and environmental programs. When former Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns told groups the administration's plans, "They didn't believe it," said Department of Agriculture spokesman Keith Williams. "He'd get jeers, and he'd say, 'No, it's in here.' "

Pelosi threw her weight behind farm-state Democrats, pushing a bill through the House last summer that protected subsidies, and ostensibly, the newly elected Democrats from rural districts.

"The administration is our ally in wanting more significant commodity reform," said Heather Fenney, coordinator of the California Food and Justice Coalition, a Berkeley-based group pushing for healthier food and sustainable farming.

"We've wondered if we weren't living in a parallel universe," said Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group. "The president has been to the left of the speaker."

Instead of cutting subsidies, Congress increased spending, raised taxes and engaged in budget acrobatics to make everything appear to fit.

As the commodities boom accelerated over the winter, boosting farm income to new records, the disconnect between the farm bill and economic reality grew more bizarre. Food riots broke out in Egypt, Haiti and other countries where the poor spend much of their earnings on food. At home, food inflation hit 4.4 percent, squeezing consumers already pinched by fuel prices.

The bill would spend about $5 billion a year on automatic payments, mostly to farmers of five crops - corn, wheat, cotton, rice and soybeans - giving two-thirds of the money to the top 10 percent of growers. Embarrassed by the spectacle, some farm-state lawmakers pushed for payment limits, fearing a loss of public support for farm aid.

Pelosi touted a ban on payments to farm couples earning more than $2 million, 10 times higher than Bush's $200,000 income limit.

At the same time, she backed a 50 percent increase in the actual amount of money each farmer could get. The Senate added a new $3.8 billion "permanent disaster" program to bail out farmers of drought-prone land, intensifying the push to plow fragile prairie.

"This is not even the illusion of reform," said Rep. Ron Kind, a Wisconsin Democrat who intends to fight a $1.7 billion cut in money added by the House for conservation. "Not when you dole out $50 billion in direct payments over 10 years that bear no relation to market prices or production. ... The president is right."

Ferd Hoefner, policy director of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, called the administration's proposals a mixed bag, saying administration officials "sit in the room with an incredible amount of leverage and don't negotiate."

Congress, however, produced "an utter lack of effective pro-family-farmer reform," Hoefner added.

To avoid a Bush veto, negotiators devised a complicated scheme to limit payments to extremely wealthy landowners. Hoefner calculated that married couples would have to earn $2.9 million to lose their federal checks.

At the same time, the bill would boost by 25 percent the payments farmers can collect, said Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs.

"It's remarkable that anyone could call this reform with a straight face," Hassebrook said.

To secure votes, negotiators added a $93 million write-off for thoroughbred racehorses at the behest of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln. That is nearly as much money as organic farmers will get for research, data collection and certification help for small growers.

The organic money is "a very significant step, but it is very far away from a fair share" given the gains organic food has made in the market, said Mark Lipson, policy program director for the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz. Still, he prefers the bill to pass for fear of losing this money.

"It's just transactional politics at its worst," said Rep. Jeff Flake, a maverick Arizona Republican who plans to attack the bill on the House floor.

Pelosi threatened to blast Bush for killing the food-stamp increase if he vetoes the bill, issuing a statement urging Bush to sign the legislation to "ensure that 38 million Americans - especially children - have improved access to basic nutrition."

Adding to the likelihood that Congress could find the votes to override a veto: California fruit and vegetable growers would be furious if a veto kills their first-ever funding. Conservation groups fear losing $4 billion in new funding for environmental programs, even though that figure was cut back to make way for the disaster program.

Farm-state Republicans met with Bush to pressure him to sign the bill. "We need him to understand that this is good policy," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.

Democratic presidential contenders Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York supported the farm bill last year. Likely GOP nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona backed a failed effort at a radical overhaul and told Iowans last week that if he were president he would veto the bill, calling crop subsidies unnecessary.

For a list of senators and representatives serving on the conference committee, go to links.sfgate.com/ZDGB

E-mail Carolyn Lochhead at clochhead@sfchronicle.com.