The National Farmers Union says it will wage a lobbying battle in Congress against a proposal to let farmers collect federal subsidies without regard to the kind of crops they produce.

NFU president Leland Swenson said Wednesday that the idea, known as "decoupling," would be "devastating for farmers and rural communities, endanger the environment and destabilize the position of Third World farmers."Swenson said decoupling would be a "short-term welfare program" and will be opposed vigorously by NFU lobbyists.

The idea of decoupling has been around for years but has not had great support on Capitol Hill. One of the early decisions by the incoming Bush administration will be whether to embrace decoupling as a way of containing government farm costs.

Under some versions of decoupling, federal payments targeted to farmers would gradually be reduced over four or five years and perhaps then be eliminated altogether as producers are weaned from federal crop subsidies.

The NFU's main rival, the American Farm Bureau Federation, at one time supported decoupling but since has backed off to give it a closer look.

One of the biggest advocates is the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative think tank, which recently issued a report saying that one of the first jobs of the Bush administration should be to cut subsidies and "get farmers off the dole."