Calling it the “last chance for real farm bill reform,” 71 conservation, environmental and anti-poverty groups sent a letter to members of the U.S. Senate, urging them to vote for the Dorgan-Grassley payment limit amendment when the farm bill comes to the floor.

Both the Food and Energy Security Act reported out by the Senate Agriculture Committee and the House-passed farm bill have different payment limits than current law, but the groups say neither does enough to reduce farm payments to commercial-sized farming operations.

The Dorgan-Grassley amendment, which its authors, Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have said they will introduce when the farm bill comes up for debate the week of Nov. 5, would put a “hard cap” of $250,000 on payments to individual farmers and their spouses.

“The time has come for real reform that closes loopholes and caps mega-farm subsidies,” the letter said. “The Agriculture Committee bill is not reform. It would impose no reduction in payments on the vast majority of the nation’s mega-farms.”

The letter also said the committee bill’s phased-in adjusted gross income limit of $750,000 for persons who receive less than two-thirds of their income from farming would have “little effect.

“It prohibits high-income non-farmers from directly receiving farm payments,” the letter notes. “But most of these non-farmers are landlords, who, given the opportunity, will switch to cash rents. Doing so will enable their tenants to receive the payments, which will then be returned to the landlord in the form of cash rent payments.”

In a press release accompanying the letter, the organizations said the Dorgan-Grassley amendment would limit all payments to $250,000, close loopholes in current rules and shift the savings to beginning and minority farmers, conservation, rural development, and nutrition and anti-hunger programs.

The Dorgan-Grassley payment limitation reform amendment, the press release said, would address “public and taxpayer concerns that a small percentage of producers receive the lion’s share of payments and that these payments contribute to farm consolidation and the demise of family farms.

“The House and Senate Agriculture Committee unfortunately failed to change the status quo of mega payments to mega farms," said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “It’s now up to the full Senate to show responsible leadership by re-affirming its support for reasonable commodity payment limits and passing the Dorgan-Grassley amendment.”

Its authors estimate Congress would save $1.15 billion over 10 years by passing the Dorgan-Grassley amendment. The savings would provide funding for a number of social and environmental programs.

“The Dorgan-Grassley amendment is good for rural communities who have seen large farms get larger and mid-sized farms get squeezed out,” said Hoefner. “It is high time the taxpayer was not forced to subsidize this destruction. We cannot wait for the next farm bill to come along to make these simple changes that are good for family farmers, rural communities, and taxpayers.”

Signers of the letter include Agricultural Missions, Inc., American Agriculture Movement, Bread for the World, Center for Rural Affairs, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, Environmental Working Group, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Family Farm Defenders, Izaak Walton League of America, Oxfam America.

California Food and Justice Coalition, Catholic Charities of Louisville Parish Social Ministry Department, Cornucopia Institute, Georgia Organics, Iowa Farmers Union, Maine Food Security Group, Soil Born Farm, Urban Agriculture Project, Sacramento, The Minnesota Project, Western Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (WSAWG).

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