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US Senate Repeals One Farm Subsidy, Adds Another


    From VOA Learning English, this is the Agriculture Report.

    The United States Senate has voted to cut a program that makes $5 billion a year in direct payments to farmers. But senators added new subsidies that critics say could hurt farmers in other countries more than the existing program.

    The vote was part of $955 billion Farm Bill approved by a wide majority in the Senate, both Democrats and Republicans. It would cut about $24 billion from the budget over 10 years, in part by cuttting the direct payments. Farmers received these payments, whether they had good years or bad.

    But high crop prices along with historically high farm profits, and reduced federal spending made the payments politically unpopular. Eliminating the payments was a big change in the new farm bill.

    Senator Debbie Stabenow heads the Agriculture Committee.

    "It's a reform bill, it ends subsidies and moves us in the direction of risk management and we are very proud of the work that we have done."

    The senate bill would help farmers manage the risks of bad weather as well as bad markets.  It would do this by offering crop insurance to farmers raising crops that have not previously been covered by the insurance. And it would make payments to farmers if prices drop too much.

    Senator Steppernow says the goal is to help the farmers who provide the United States with a safe, affordable food supply. But critics say the bill goes too far.

    Vince Smith is an economist at Montana State University, he says the new guarantee to pay farmers if prices drop too much could cause trouble for the United States at the World Trade Organization.

    "When prices fall from the current levels, subsidies to a whole plethora of crops go up. Well, that's exactly when countries like Brazil will bring trade dispute cases claiming price suppression in world markets."

    Brazil has already won a WTO case against the United States over cotton subsidies. Mr Smith says the new Farm Bill could revive that dispute.

    The bill would also lead the government buy $60 million in emergency food aid closer to where a crisis is happening. Supporter say doing that is faster and cheaper that shipping food from the United States and could save more lives.

    Eric Munoz with the anti-poverty group Oxfam says it is a good step. But he notes that it is a very small part of a food aid budget of more than  $1 billion.

    "It is a very small portion of a relatively large program. So I think we're just at the beginning, really, of creating the kind of flexibility for food aid that we'd like to see on a much larger scale."

    And tha's the Agriculture Report from VOA Learning English. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our reports are at I'm Christopher Cruise.