House approves wide-ranging agriculture bill

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- House members approved Monday a wide-ranging agriculture bill that includes a loan forgiveness program for veterinary students, changes to the state ethanol subsidy and new restrictions on Agriculture Department funds.

The legislation combines into a single agriculture bill several separate bills that have cleared either the House or Senate but have not moved in the other chamber.

The legislation would cap subsidies for ethanol producers at $10 million while expanding what the subsidy covers. Without that cap, the Department of Agriculture expects the current subsidy program would pay out $15 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1, according to a legislative cost estimate.

Currently, only grain-produced ethanol qualifies, and the legislation would expand that to cover all agriculture and wood products. Ethanol is essentially a grain alcohol that is blended with gasoline and can be burned by most combustion engines.

Although most of the ethanol produced in Missouri comes from corn, other areas -- such as Brazil -- use sugar cane while some use switchgrass.

The House also adopted new spending restrictions on the Missouri Department of Agriculture -- a response to sexual harassment allegations against former department Director Fred Ferrell.

The larger bill also includes a veterinary student loan forgiveness program that each chamber already has approved. Earlier this session, the House and Senate approved separate measures to expand an existing program that allows a limited number of veterinary students to have up to $80,000 of their student loans forgiven if they specialize in treating farm animals in parts of the state that do not have enough vets.

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