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In the dust-up to curb federal powers, the Utah Farm Bureau and the Utah Cattlemen's Association have joined with conservative groups pushing for states' rights.

But many of the organizations in the newly formed Utah United Coalition also want to eliminate federal programs that many farmers and ranchers hold sacred: farm subsidies.

The coalition sponsored an inaugural conference in September, with the theme "Reclaiming Our Constitutional Heritage." In addition to the farm groups, sponsors included the John Birch Society, Eagle Forum and National Center for Constitutional Studies.

All oppose farm subsidies as unconstitutional.

At the conference, the tea-party backed conservative from Nevada, Sharron Angle, said Americans want their government to cut spending and reduce the federal deficit. But she did not state whether reductions should include farm subsidies.

Currently, Washington annually gives about $20 billion in crop subsidies.

Repeated telephone calls and e-mails to Angle's campaign office went unreturned this week.

Angle has been criticized for refusing to answer reporters' questions, and her website makes no mention of her stance on subsidies or other issues related to American farmers.

Corinne rancher John Ferry said he supports the Farm Bureau aligning itself to ultra-conservative groups on issues related to multiple use of public lands and unreasonable environmental standards.

But he is uncomfortable with the general perception that the Farm Bureau is in lock step "with every other issue these groups are promoting."

"Looking for alliances is sometimes like marrying the woman of your dreams. You also get the in-laws who come along with her," he said.

Ferry, a Farm Bureau board member, also is concerned that the risk his organization is taking is akin to advice he gives teenagers who pal around with smokers. Even if they don't light a cigarette in an automobile when their friends do," he said, "everybody smells like smoke when they get out of the car."

The group that organized the conference — Tennessee-based Freedom 21 — also does not support farm subsidies. Its founder, Henry Lamb, said the issue is complicated, and reaches beyond America to world markets.

Within U.S. borders, he said, "We should set up a program to reduce subsidies 10 percent a year for 10 years so farmers know what's coming and they can plan for it. We've got to get farming out from under the control of the federal government. Period."

Bill Hahn, spokesman for the Washington-based John Birch Society, said farm subsidies were meant as a helping hand for struggling farmers, but they continue to be "misused and abused.

"Ten percent of the largest farms in America receive 74 percent of all farm subsidies," he said. "Both major political parties are guilty of allowing this unconstitutional corporate welfare to continue rather than finding a solution that would transition government out of the agricultural business."

The draw for the Cattlemen's Association, said its president, Dave Eliason, is the coalition's goal to protect property rights.

"People love the idea of cheap food," he said, "but until farmers can get a fair market price for their products, many will need subsidies to survive."

Even within the farming communities, opinions differ wildly.

For instance, Farm Bureau CEO Randy Parker spoke at the conference in opposition to a cap-and -trade bill. That legislation is aimed at controlling pollution by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of pollutants.

Parker has said the legislation would do little, if anything, to reduce global warming, and it would increase energy costs — harming farmers and ranchers.

The Utah Farmers Union, however, supports cap and trade because it would allow producers to earn income by storing carbon in their soil through no-till crop production and conversion of cropland to grass.

Utah Farmers Union Vice President Ron Stratford said he would not criticize the Farm Bureau's alliance with outside groups.

"Speaking for myself," he said, "there are so few farmers that they often look to make partnerships wherever they can find them."

Who is behind the Freedom Conference?

Although promoters for Utah United Coalition say the Freedom Conference will be an annual event, they haven't been clear on whether donations collected to stage recent educational workshops are tax deductible.

Conference co-chairman Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, declined to answer e-mails and telephone calls, referring all questions to Kathy Smith, who also chaired the event.

About 400 people attended the coalition's first conference in September. Fees were $45 to $55 per person. Among those contributing money or in-kind services were philanthropist John Gullo, who provided a free concert, and the Utah Farm Bureau and Utah Cattlemen's Association.

State officials are seeking the coalition's mailing address to send a courtesy reminder that if the group is a charity or educational organization, members should register themselves as such.

Smith said both she had her husband, Bert, founder of the retailer Smith and Edwards, have agreed to pay any outstanding bills. She said the conference was staged under the umbrella of the Tennessee-based Freedom 21, and any donations of $250 or more are tax deductible.

But Freedom 21 Executive Vice President Henry Lamb said all donations, "every penny," are tax deductible. Freedom 21, once known as The Environmental Conservation Organization Inc., was founded in 1988 when several national groups met to devise a strategy to protect private property rights. It is registered as a 501(c)(4), a not-for-profit advocacy organization.

Paperwork snafus dogged one of the conference sponsors, the Patrick Henry Caucus, which incorporated last year as a nonprofit 501(c) (3) charity organization. The designation means that donations are tax deductible. Caucus founder Rep. Kenneth Sumsion, R-American Fork, said the group's articles of incorporation will be changed to reflect its mission as a political organization. The caucus, which advocates state's rights, has filed documents detailing how its PAC money has been spent, and its website states that donations are not tax deductible.