Can an Armani-clad gal from the big city be the champion of the good farmer?

After giving two thumbs up to the House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill last Thursday, Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s rise to rural populist hero-status seems as likely as old Bessie having twins. Said Pelosi:

… the bill represents a critical first step toward reform by eliminating payments to millionaires, closing loopholes that permit evasion of payment limits, and promoting our nation’s family farmers.

But Pelosi still has a chance to emerge as the defender of real farm bill reform. And why shouldn’t she? After all, the farm bill is about food and taking care of the land. It impacts all of us whether you live in Schuyler, Nebraska or San Francisco.

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Rep. Pelosi has an opportunity to make good on the failure of her Democratic comrades in the House Ag Committee and help her party win the hearts (and votes) of rural and urban constituents alike when the bill goes to the floor of the House next week.

Currently, the farm bill approved by the House Ag Committee and blessed by Pelosi falls short on several counts, but it is particularly lacking when it comes to effectively limiting commodity payments and supporting conservation on agricultural lands.

The payment limits provision of the bill denies payments to millionaires — this sounds like reform, right? Make no mistake, all you are really hearing is more corn growing in Iowa and agribusiness investors laughing all the way to the bank. The Committee bill actually removes any cap on loan deficiency payments and increases the cap on direct payments by 50 percent to $120,000.

The result is higher land prices that lead to farm consolidation, fewer family farmers, and reduced farming opportunities for a new generation trying to make a living on the land.

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What’s more, the Committee bill fails to fully restore the $4 billion cut to the Conservation Security Program and freezes program sign-ups until 2010. This move essentially snuffs out one of the country’s best agri-environmental programs, which rewards and encourages environmental stewardship on working land.

If effective (PDF) payment limits were applied to commodity programs and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the savings could be used to make CSP stronger, which is more important than ever.

It is not too late! Speaker Pelosi should work with Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Collin Peterson (D-MN) to include a $40,000 cap on direct payments, close all of the loopholes, and restore the $4 billion stolen from the Conservation Security Program before the bill goes to the floor for debate.

Tell Rep. Pelosi to take the next step!

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