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US lawmakers reach farm bill deal, subsidies slashed

Congressional negotiators reached a deal on a five-year bill Monday that eliminates or caps agriculture subsidies for thousands of farmers and slashes the food stamp program for needy Americans. The mammoth measure, which took some two years to hash out and endured a collapse of negotiations in 2013, could now be voted on as early as Wednesday in the House of Representatives, the chamber's Republican leaders said. The Senate could address the so-called farm bill next week, according to Senate Democrat Debbie Stabenow, chair of the chamber's Agriculture Committee.

Subsidies in the farm bill

The compromise farm bill announced Monday by congressional negotiators sets policy for food stamps and farm programs. The bill would cut food stamps by around $800 million a year and continue generous farm subsidies. Agriculture programs in the bill: — The end of so-called direct payments, paid to farmers whether they farm or not. The payments now cost around $4.5 billion a year.

'Land grabbing' pushes up prices in eastern Germany

Land prices in eastern Germany are rising at dizzying rates and local farmers feel they are being squeezed out by foreign investors in a phenomenon known as "land grabbing". The price of a hectare of land has risen by 54 percent between 2009 and 2012 in Brandenburg state and by 79 percent in neighbouring Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, even if prices remain below those in the west of the country -- at least for now. The rural east of Germany has vast swathes of arable land inherited from communist times, when farming was in the hands of huge collectives, known as LPGs.

US free trade talks spark food safety fears in Europe

Food industry professionals meeting in Berlin this week voiced concerns over a looming US-EU free trade pact, fearing a transatlantic onslaught of genetically modified foods, hormone-treated beef and chlorinated chicken. Small farmers in particular worry about a softening of European food safety standards and a joint "race to the bottom" if liberalised trade rules pit them against American agro-industry giants and food multinationals.

Canadian farmers to lose veteran political correspondent in Ottawa

OTTAWA - While his press gallery peers criss-crossed the country over the years in the bubble of leaders' campaigns, Barry Wilson liked to fly under the mainstream radar with his own custom-made election tour. Wilson, who retires this month after 34 years as the Western Producer's Ottawa correspondent, would drive across the country in rented cars writing about candidates and issues in rural ridings. In an era of leader-driven politics and breathless 24/7 tweeting on this or that gaffe, you might say Wilson is a bit of a subversive.

Reid says Senate will not extend farm law despite threat of milk prices rising

WASHINGTON - Majority Leader Harry Reid says the Senate will not extend current farm law if Congress can't agree on a new farm bill before adjourning next week. House leaders have reserved space on their agenda this week for extending the current law until the end of January. Lawmakers fear that milk prices might rise sharply if dairy subsidies expire Jan. 1. The House and Senate have passed separate versions, but with widespread differences over crop subsidies and how much to cut food stamps.

Japan aims to double farm exports by 2020 under reform plan

The government said Tuesday it will double Japan's agricultural exports to 1 trillion yen ($9.7 billion) by 2020 by strengthening the farm industry despite the threat of fierce competition once the country opens markets further to foreign products under free trade accords. The strategy is part of a policy package approved by a government panel that also includes measures to support farmers engaging in processing and distributing their produce and to double the incomes of the agricultural sector as a whole over the next decade.

Farm bill negotiators work against New Year's deadline of higher milk prices

WASHINGTON - A New Year's deadline that could send the price of milk skyward looms over congressional negotiators as they try to reach agreement on a five-year farm bill. They've been tripped up by differences over the nation's food stamp program and how to restructure farm subsidies.

Japan announces major farm policy shakeup

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday announced that his government would shake up a decades-old system to protect rice farmers, a key part of Tokyo's pledge to open up the agricultural sector. The major policy shift would end production quotas in the year starting March 2018 and abolish across-the-board cash handouts to farmers, Abe said. Tariffs on rice imports run at almost 800 percent in Japan, and the staple food is seen as a potent symbol of the country's revered farm sector.

Japan decides to end rice output controls

The Japanese government decided Tuesday to end its decades-long policy of protecting rice farmers by limiting their production and providing across-the-board cash handouts. The major policy shift comes as the government seeks to stimulate the highly protected industry, which is expected to face fierce competition from foreign farmers when the envisioned Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement opens the way to an influx of cheap imports.
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