LIBBY QUAID AP Food and Farm Writer
WASHINGTON Trying to tighten the federal budget, the Bush administration today proposed to reduce farm spending by $18 billion over the next five years. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns is not seeking major changes in the nation’s farm subsidy program, which major farm groups and lawmakers in Congress want to retain. “I believe so strongly in what farmers said,” Johanns said, describing forums he held in dozens of states. “They like the structure of this farm bill, but they have a big vision for the future.” However, there is one big change: The administration is seeking to eliminate farm payments for wealthy producers, limiting subsidy payments to those making less than $200,000 in adjusted gross income annually. The current income cap is $2.5 million. That would rule out payments for about 80,000 producers who currently are eligible, officials said. Those producers collect about 4.5 percent of overall farm payments. The limit on payments would save an estimated $1.5 billion over 10 years. “I don’t know if there is anywhere in the country you can go where $200,000 adjusted gross net income is not a lot of income,” Deputy Secretary Chuck Connor said. “You’re the richest guy in the county.” It’s difficult to know just who would be cut off, said Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group, which tracks subsidies. Cook said many high-profile recipients, such as media mogul and CNN founder Ted Turner, probably were cut off in 2002, when Congress imposed the $2.5 million income cap. The current farm bill written in 2002 expires at the end of this year.