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    A Times Editorial

    Farm bill must be fair to Florida

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 17, 2002

    In the critical final days of congressional horse-trading over a new farm bill, Florida could be one of the big losers. Here is why: Both political parties and both houses of Congress are competing to boost subsidies for commodity farmers in key Midwestern states, hoping to sway voters. To pay for their extravagances, they are cutting other agricultural programs, such as conservation spending, that are of more benefit to Florida farmers.

    In Florida, farmers are paid to retire some of their land from agriculture, give up development rights or use environmentally friendly farming practices. Such programs help the farmers and the state's fragile environment. The Democrat-controlled Senate would allocate $380-million for such programs in Florida, $125-million more than in the Republican-controlled House bill. The Senate bill also has conservation reforms that would help Florida, which is under heavy development pressure.

    The Senate would seem to be in the driver's seat on the issue, but Democratic leaders appear ready to give too much. To increase payments to corn, wheat and soybean farmers, some Senate Democrats would cut the conservation programs and give up on reform. That would be costly to Florida. Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson should do what they can to maintain balance in the final farm bill.

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