Environmental and social action groups were making a last-ditch effort to derail the 2008 farm bill conference report as the House of Representatives and the Senate prepared to debate and vote on the measure.

But even as the Environmental Working Group, Environmental Defense Fund and the Center for Rural Affairs attacked the conference report’s authors for “missing an opportunity to reduce farm subsidies,” a coalition of more than 500 farm organizations were calling on House members and senators to support the legislation.

“We urge Congress to vote against this farm bill, and we encourage President Bush to veto it,” said Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs, a non-profit group that said it works to strengthen small businesses, family farms and communities.

“This farm bill commits the federal government to subsidizing the destruction of family farming for another five years, and it invests little in the future of rural communities,” he said, accusing Congress of “breaking faith” with rural America.

Meanwhile, leaders of a coalition of 557 organizations were urging their members to contact their congressmen and ask to pass a “veto-proof” conference report.

“The bipartisan farm bill package strikes a key balance,” said American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman. “The bill continues to provide a basic, no frills safety net for America’s farmers and it increases support for hungry Americans and the environment.”

Stallman and other farm organization leaders said they were disappointed that President Bush continues to indicate he will veto the bill, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008.

“This bill has broad national benefits, reform in farm programs and is fully paid for via offsets that everyone agrees are acceptable,” said Stallman. “This carefully crafted legislation will give America’s farmers and ranchers a basic package of support that will allow them to continue serving as the world’s major food producers.”

“The farm bill conference report addresses a number of challenges we face as a nation,” said National Farmers Union President Tom Buis. “The bill benefits rural communities, urban communities and everyone in between with record increases in nutrition, conservation, specialty crop, rural development and renewable energy programs.”

The House was scheduled to debate and vote on the farm bill conference report today (May 14) and the Senate tomorrow. The House needs 290 votes to override the threatened presidential veto while the Senate will require 67 votes.

Buis and other leaders said the 557 groups signing on to the letter they sent to members of Congress Monday represent not just traditional commodity groups, but specialty crop, conservation, nutrition, consumer and religious organizations across the country.

“This broad coalition sends a loud message to Congress and the President that America wants this farm bill passed and signed into law without further delay,” said Buis. “We urge all members of Congress to support the farm bill when it comes time for a vote this week.”

Hassebrook claims the bill reflects a “failure of leadership” by both Congress and the Bush administration to provide what it sees as reform of the farm subsidy system.

Leaders of the Environmental Working Group, the organization that posted the names of thousands of farmers and the payments they received, also criticized the White House for failing to mount an effort to sustain the threatened veto.

“Without a strong and visible White House push in the next three days, by the time the override vote is eventually taken President Bush may already have lost the fight,” said Ken Cook, the EWG president writing in the group’s blog.

The Environmental Defense Fund criticized the farm bill conference report’s authors for “increasing, rather than decreasing subsidies.” The charge was refuted by Sen. Kent Conrad, a senior Senate Agriculture Committee member who has said the bill reduces commodity title spending by $1.7 billion.

“With crop prices and farm incomes at record levels, Congress missed a once-in-five-years opportunity to reduce farm subsidies,” said Sara Hopper, an attorney for EDF. “Instead, Congress has increased support levels for some crops, added new crops to the subsidy roll, and failed to make any significant reduction in direct payments.”

e-mail: flaws@farmpress.com