An improved Farm Bill

OCTOBER 24TH, 2007 | TomHarkin

Earlier today the Senate Agriculture Committee sat down to review the 2007 Farm Bill that I authored.

After months of hard work and spirited negotiations, I was pleased to present the bill, which is known in Washington parlance as the “Chairman’s mark” of the legislation entitled, The Food and Energy Security Act.

It is a bipartisan bill that, I believe, will enjoy broad support on the committee. It conforms to a strict budget allocation and pay-as-you-go budget rules, yet still addresses the diverse geographical and philosophical views on our Committee in a balanced way. I would like to thank Chairman Conrad of the Budget Committee and Chairman Baucus of the Finance Committee for their help in making this possible.

There are significant achievements in this bill. It makes critical investments in energy, conservation, nutrition, rural development and promoting better diets and health for all Americans. It also maintains a strong safety net for farm producers, and strengthens programs that will help agricultural producers of all kinds across our nation.

The commodities title of the proposal continues basic features of the 2002 bill, which have worked well, and it gives producers a new option, beginning in the 2010 crop year, to choose to participate in a state-level revenue protection system. The program offers producers better options for managing their farm’s risk in today’s uncertain, rapidly changing farm environment. The bill greatly increases assistance to growers of fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops.

In the nutrition title, we strengthen our commitment to fighting hunger and promoting sound health and nutrition. We update archaic nutrition program rules, increase Food Stamp benefit levels, and stop the erosion of benefits that has gone unchecked since 1996. We expand the very popular Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to reach nearly 4.5 million children in elementary schools nationwide.

The conservation title has an estimated $4 billion in new budget authority. This will allow CSP – now renamed the Conservation Stewardship Program – to grow vigorously at a pace of more than 13 million acres a year, which with the 15 million acres already enrolled, will equal 80 million acres in 5 years. This funding will also continue to allow enrollment in the Wetland Reserve Program and the Grassland Reserve Program. We devote $165 million to help fund the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay . This is a very strong conservation title, despite severe budget limits.

In the energy title, we provide $1.1 billion in investments in farm-based energy. The Chairman’s mark supports programs to help farmers to transition into biomass crops, and supports the construction of biorefineries from cellulose ethanol with a loan guarantee program that will provide up to 80 percent of total project cost with a loan cap of $250 million. I would like especially to thank Senators Amy Klobuchar and John Thune for their strong support of these efforts. We expand markets for biobased products, and invest in farm-based energy R&D, and in helping farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses move to renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The bill’s livestock title will promote market opportunities for producers; it will protect animal health; and it will strengthen enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act. This title includes the House compromise on mandatory Country of Origin Labeling, with minor changes.

In the rural development title, we have provided nearly half a billion dollars for a variety of initiatives that will promote economic growth and create jobs in rural communities. This title will help agriculture producers and small businesses to create and capitalize on new opportunities. It will bring quality, affordable day care as well as improved access to broadband to rural America . It will provide loans to rural hospitals so that they can acquire the best equipment possible.

Overall, this new farm bill will be good for farmers, good for rural communities and good for the environment. It will promote the health as well as the energy security of the American people. And, as I said, it does all this within a strict budget allocation and pay-as-you-go budget rules.

Once the bill is cleared out of committee it will go to the Senate floor for a full vote. I am hopeful that we can win Senate approval and get this bill working for the American people as quickly as possible. | digg this | stumble it! | share on facebook

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