The usually ubiquitous free raisins from California are nowhere to be seen, but the House Agriculture Committee isn't suffering on the snack front.
The Coca-Cola Bottling Co. keeps the committee refrigerator stocked with soft drinks and the Georgia Peanut Commission has taken care to have plenty of gift goobers available for members. The snack food industry has sent around large canisters of crunchies.
It's all in the spirit of writing a farm bill, in which the committee gives away a lot more than peanuts. Budget restraint may be the watchword, but the bill taking shape is, like those in years past, laden with innocuous-sounding provisions that translate into goodies for members' favorite interests.
Most often, members don't bat an eye at the amendments. That wasn't the case, though, when Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D-Calif.) proposed a change in the way federal money is distributed to state extension services. Members who checked out the numbers were stunned. Under the Brown formula, California would have received a lot more money and their states less. They objected, and Brown had to settle for a study of the adequacy of the present system of fund distribution.
Brown had better luck on another amendment. He added a provision to the conservation reserve section that could be a boon to California farmers plagued by pesticide problems and increased salinity in their irrigated fields.
The conservation reserve is intended to pay farmers to hold highly erodible land out of production for 10 years or more.
But the Brown amendment would allow any land -- erodible or not -- to go into the reserve if it poses off-farm environmental threats or if salinity threatens its productivity. Without the Brown language providing federal cash payments to them, farmers in some parts of California and other irrigated western states could be left with land that has little agricultural value.
Meanwhile, Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.) did his bit for the large growers in his San Joaquin Valley district. He got the committee to adopt simple language asserting the authority of the Extension Service to work on practical applications of agricultural research.
Translation: Although the research establishment is under attack and has been sued in California for devoting its resources to labor-replacing machinery, most often to the benefit of the biggest farmers, the Coelho amendment would authorize business as usual.
Coelho won another one for the California growers who produce good-looking fruits and vegetables by dosing them heavily with chemicals such as color enhancers and growth stimulants.
He got the committee to drop a proposal by Rep. Barbara B. Kennelly (D-Conn.) for a federal study on the extent of the use of "cosmetic" standards for food.
To assure no more meddling of that sort, Coelho also got the committee to abandon a Kennelly proposal for a wide-ranging Agriculture Department review of the costs and progress of integrated pest management, a farming technique that de-emphasizes the use of pesticides and herbicides. The committee turned it into "report language," a nonbinding directive to the USDA.
Coelho, in fact, was hyperactive on behalf of California interests. He won passage of a proposal for a study on the impact of imported apricots on American growers. U.S. apricot farmers, mostly Californians, complain that fruit subsidized by the Turkish government is ruining their markets.
The congressman also won approval of a directive to the president to consider processed milk, fruit, nut and vegetable products for distribution abroad under the Food for Peace program. California, as might be guessed, is a major producer of each of those items.
Remember the controversial marketing orders that the Reagan administration has tried off and on to limit? Marketing orders cover about three different crops, regulating their flow to market and often affecting their price. Well, Rep. Sid Morrison (R-Wash.), a farmer in private life, got the committee to pass language barring the secretary of agriculture from ending any marketing order in effect as of July 10 without a majority vote of the affected farmers. Hands off, in other words.
Country probably wouldn't be country without gingham skirts, but the sewing industry is worried that more and more rural misses are buying theirs off the racks instead of making them.
Rep. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) went to bat for the sewing-machine and pattern people, offering an amendment authorizing the Extension Service to set up a matching-grant program (part federal, part industry) encouraging people to sew.
Covering all their seams, as it were, the industry also got the House Appropriations Committee to include language in its fiscal 1986 agriculture appropriation bill directing the Extension Service to pay more attention to home sewing.
The Roberts amendment, passed by the committee, also provides for matching-grant programs in urban gardening and pesticide-use education, programs the USDA has deemed unworthy of funding. A garden appliance outfit wanted one; chemical companies wanted the other.
Committee members tend to favor nutrition and health -- as long as it doesn't cause too much havoc in the food-producing sectors they take up for. Distrust of federal agencies other than the USDA to handle the research runs high.
So, the dairy lobby got Rep. Robert M. (Robin) Tallon (D-S.C.) to propose directing the secretary to do a study on the importance of calcium in human health. Rep. Berkley W. Bedell (D-Iowa), who represents a lot of hog farmers, proposed a study of cholesterol. Both amendments passed.
For days, a lobbyist for the margarine industry sat in the committee room, waiting expectantly. Finally, it became clear why. An amendment was offered to require the secretary to report how federal surplus food donations -- butter, for example -- might be disrupting commercial sales.
"It's no big thing," said Rep. Bill Emerson (R-Mo.), whose farmers turn out a lot of soybean oil, a margarine ingredient. "The margarine people are concerned about displacement, and this only requires a study and a report back to us by the secretary when the butter giveaway is going on."
The farmer feeds us all, Woody Guthrie used to say.