DECEMBER 24TH, 2007 | Harkin for Senate
Passing a new farm bill is like trying to get a herd of hogs through a gate – a lot of moving parts, each wanting to go a different way. There are differences among regions, among crops and among philosophies and outlooks.
Some want revolutionary change, others want little or none. We have to balance varying needs from rural, urban and international perspectives within a limited budget. So it was no small achievement when the Senate earlier this month passed the Food and Energy Security Act of 2007 by a wide bipartisan margin of 79-14.
The legislation is progressive, forward-looking and good for Iowa. It makes major new investments and policy changes in energy, conservation, nutrition and rural development. It maintains strong income protection for farm producers and promotes better diets and health for all Americans. And it benefits hunters, environmentalists, rural residents and low-income families struggling to put food on the table – and all of us who want energy security for America.
A core mission of any farm bill is to promote profitability and income potential in agriculture. The bill continues basic features of the 2002 bill, which Iowa farmers like, and gives producers a new option, beginning in the 2010 crop year, to participate in a state-level revenue-protection system, the Average Crop Revenue program. In addition, we included very substantial new assistance to growers of fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops.
As demand for commodity output rises, it is more important than ever to support conservation practices on land in production. The Senate bill’s improved programs and added funding will mean cleaner water, less soil erosion and more abundant wildlife across our state. As an example, CSP – now renamed the Comprehensive Stewardship Program – will grow vigorously. Here in Iowa, it will enroll an additional 417,000 acres a year over the next five years.
Iowans are eager to remain leaders in the production of biofuels, and they want to build on the success of corn ethanol. The new bill will help farmers move into growing biomass crops such as switchgrass, and it will provide grants and loan guarantees to Iowa entrepreneurs who want to build cellulosic biorefineries. The bill was expressly written so USDA funds will supplement resources in the Iowa Power Fund to help farm-based energy projects in our state.
Iowans also appreciate the urgent need to improve the nutrition and health of our children and low-income families. The Senate farm bill would enable up to 65,000 Iowa schoolchildren to participate in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which I authored in the 2002 farm bill. That’s more than five times the current number. And this bill will significantly increase food assistance to most of the 225,000 Iowans who rely on these benefits to feed their families.
The farm bill is the single most important piece of federal legislation for promoting rural economic development. The Senate version of the bill will expand access to quality, affordable child care, extend broadband in rural Iowa communities and provide loans to rural hospitals so that they can acquire the best equipment possible. The bill will also continue the popular USDA grant program for farmer-owned value-added businesses.
Regrettably, there were not enough votes in the Senate to go as far as I wanted in tightening caps on farm commodity program payments. But politics is the art of the possible. We did achieve reforms: to exclude more individuals with high non-farm incomes from receiving commodity payments, require that payments go to live human beings and put a stop to using the “three-entity rule” to receive twice the payment amounts specified in the law.
Of course, our work is not complete. The Senate and House bills will now be reconciled by a conference committee, which I will chair. And a veto threat still clouds the bill’s future. But I am confident that, by early next year, we can produce a solid bill that the president will sign. That will be very good news for Iowa and the entire nation.
Sen. TOM HARKIN, a Democrat from Cumming, is chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.