American Farmland Trust
Farm Policy Update November 30, 2006

Agricultural Issues Trump Election Results

“While November 7th brought sweeping changes to the House and Senate, agriculture is one of the few bi-partisan issues,” says Dennis Nuxoll, AFT Director of Government Relations. In the House, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) is expected to chair the Agriculture Committee, while Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) is expected to chair the Agriculture Committee in the Senate. Both leaders have traditionally supported conservation efforts. Of significance, Rep. Peterson formally withdrew his support for farm bill extension before the election, which leaves virtually no question that a new farm bill will be written in 2007. “Larger issues such as the budget deficit, baseline funding for agriculture and international trade are driving the need for an overhaul of the current farm policies,” says Nuxoll.

Isn't It Time to Fully Fund Conservation Programs?

"We can have all the conservation and farm stewardship programs in the world,” says AFT President Ralph Grossi, “but without adequate funding, they become nothing but lost opportunities for cleaner air and water, improved wildlife habitat and protected farmland and open space.” AFT led more than 20 other organizations in signing a letter to President Bush requesting that conservation programs be funded at no less than current authorized levels in 2008. The need is clear. Three out of every four farmers who apply for conservation funding are turned down due to lack of funds, and farmers and ranchers in 88 percent of the nation’s watersheds have not been given the opportunity to enroll in the Conservation Security Program.

State Agriculture's Ideas for 2007 Farm Bill

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) officially released its 2007 Farm Bill recommendations last week calling for an improved safety net for farmers and ranchers; enhanced conservation on working lands; expanded rural development; increased access to safe, nutritious food; and the development of renewable energy resources. Many of the recommendations align with those promoted by AFT in Agenda 2007, in particular the establishment of a Farm and Ranch Profitability Grants Program to support farm entrepreneurship, rural development and better diets.

Where to Farm in the Future?

At the center of AFT proposals to expand farm economic opportunities in the next farm bill is the proposed Farm and Ranch Profitability Grants Program [PDF], which will help Connecticut dairyman Robin Chesmer continue to showcase locally produced milk. Chesmer is the operational manager of Farmer’s Cow, which coordinates supermarket tastings, internet promotion and other efforts to deliver locally produced milk to consumers. The proposed Farm and Ranch Profitability Grants Program would be administered by state officials, thereby allowing the marketing and business venture grants to flow more effectively to innovative programs and projects, such as Farmer’s Cow, that improve the bottom line of farmers.

Lighting a Fire Under the Doha Round

Recently, everyone including Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns is talking about the Doha Round of WTO talks. A new round of preliminary meetings is underway that may jumpstart the round that was tabled this summer. Sec. Johanns is in India to ask officials there to be flexible and make concessions to help move the talks. Here in Washington, a striking Congressional Research Service Report [PDF] to Congress [Order Code RS22522] says that current U.S. domestic and export support programs are extremely vulnerable to legal challenges under the WTO rules, unless they are changed significantly.

Farm Labor Crisis Putting Family Farms, Farmland Protection at Risk

AFT is concerned that the deepening farm labor crisis is putting family farms and farmland protection in great jeopardy. “We’ve seen devastating consequences from the lack of documented farm workers this year—including farmers forced to leave crops in the field to rot, and economic losses,” says AFT President Ralph Grossi. AFT has called upon Congress to support the enactment of S. 359 and H.R. 884, the Agriculture Job Opportunities, Benefits and Security Act of 2005 (AgJOBS) before the 109th session of Congress closes.

Media Summary

Fate of the Farm Bill Linked to Budget Victory?
One thing is for certain: when the 110th Congress convenes, a larger number of agriculture groups will be asking Congress “to provide more money for everything from crop subsidies and conservation payments to disaster aid and biofuels development.” This Des Moines Register piece looks at agriculture’s “baseline” spending and how that may play out.

Are Farm Commodity Programs Really No Longer Necessary?

Ohio State University Economist Dr. Luther Tweeten spoke to the American Bankers Association meeting, adding to the growing number of public and academic voices saying farm subsidies are no longer necessary. He cites the growing renewable fuels sector and rising land prices as the ideal time to “phase out the program,” while noting that programs for the “public good” such as conservation, water quality and funding for rural communities should be continued.

Harkin Could Lead History-Making

The Des Moines Register opined that Sen. Tom Harkin is taking the reins of the Agriculture Committee at “just the right time” and has the opportunity to continue the work he began in 2002 to move farm policy in a new direction. The paper echoes many of AFT’s Agenda 2007 ideas, saying: “The safety net for farmers should be based not on income supports based on crop production but on good stewardship of the land. And the ‘farm bill’ should continue to be broadened beyond farming. It should foster economic growth throughout rural America, both on and off the farm, and help speed the nation's transition to renewable energy.”

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