New farm bill could be mixed bag for California

WASHINGTON -- Farmers markets could flourish with funding included in a new farm bill that has become a mixed bag for California.

Central Valley growers could buy new pumps and engines with federal funds dedicated to improving air quality. University of California researchers could conduct more organic agriculture studies.

Valley students would be served more fruit and vegetable snacks.

"I'm back to being happy again," Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, said Tuesday afternoon. "Currently, the bill is in a shape where I can support it."

Negotiators still face a potential presidential veto along with a May 16 deadline. Final House and Senate approvals may be extended until next week, while last-minute haggling continues. Key lawmakers met again behind closed doors Tuesday.

Still, much of the farm bill is finished. The settled provisions are part of a bill expected to cost about $280 billion over five years and $570 billion over 10 years.

Roughly two-thirds of the spending supports food stamp and nutrition programs.

The big wild card is a potential veto by President Bush, who has called the package "bloated." Congress could then either overturn a veto or simply extend current farm policy for another year, until a new president takes office.

Cardoza, chairman of the House horticulture and organic agriculture subcommittee, said his fellow lawmakers have little appetite for extending current farm policy and giving up the negotiating gains made on behalf of fruit and vegetable growers.

Farmers markets, for instance, are a modest winner in this year's pending farm bill. The bill includes $33 million for an existing Farmers Market Promotion Program that currently provides only about $1 million annually.

Cardoza and other California lawmakers secured $150 million specifically for air-quality projects funded through the existing Environmental Quality Incentive Program.