STOCKTON -- Acting Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner showed just one slide at his talk on farm bill reforms Tuesday.
It was a map of Manhattan, with dots showing the rather tony addresses of some of the farm owners who get federal crop subsidies.
"Those big, big dots follow Park Avenue in New York City," Conner said, "and this is money going to people who probably haven't dirtied their boots on too many farms and ranches."
He spoke on the opening day of the Stockton Ag Expo, one of many stops for Bush administration officials as the farm bill debate resumes. The bill would spell out nearly $300 billion in farm and nutrition spending over five years.
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The administration proposes to trim the traditional subsidies, which for decades have gone mainly to corn, wheat, soybean, rice and cotton growers in the Midwest and South. Some of the savings would go to research, conservation and other efforts on behalf of fruits, vegetables and other "specialty crops" in California and elsewhere, Conner said.
Bush also is seeking a $200,000 cap on the annual adjusted gross income of farm owners receiving subsidies. Conner said this would affect the richest 2 percent of owners.
The House and Senate have approved versions of the farm bill that would accomplish some of these goals, he said, but the administration opposes them because they contain tax increases and "budget gimmicks."
He also noted that prices for most farm products are high -- all the more reason to reduce subsidies that were designed to help farmers during low-price spells.
"These are great times in American agriculture," he said.
Conner spoke nearly a year after the administration announced its farm bill proposal. The rollout included a Modesto appearance by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, who since has resigned to run for a U.S. Senate seat in Nebraska.
Conner, who hails from an Indiana farm, was named deputy secretary in 2005. He has worked on farm bills dating to 1981, including his time as a Senate staff member.
He said the current effort includes promoting free trade around the world. Another billion people could enter the middle class in the next decade, in countries such as China and Mexico, and California farmers could supply some of their food, he said.
"I am anxious to produce a bill that is helpful to the farmers and fair to the taxpayers in this country," he said.
Paul Sanguinetti, a board member with the San Joaquin County Farm Bureau, was among the 80 or so people who turned out for Conner's talk. He grows walnuts, tomatoes and other crops in the Farmington area.
"They've got a lot of resistance from the Midwest," he said of the reform effort. "They're moving in the right direction, but it's never going to be 100 percent of what you want."
Ed Lucas, manager of the Stockton branch of Garton Tractor Inc. of Turlock, said the bill should include investment tax credits for purchases of farm equipment.
"Every tractor you see out there is for a specialty crop," said Lucas, displaying his wares amid the rain Tuesday.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2385.