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Farm Policy Update September 28, 2007

Dennis Nuxoll on Hill TubeAFT's Dennis Nuxoll Discusses Competing Priorities on HillTube

Dennis Nuxoll, AFT's Director of Government Relations, was featured on TheHill.com's HillTube, an online video Web site for politicos similar to the very popular YouTube. Nuxoll discussed the competing priorities as the heat of the farm bill debates continues to rise.

Barn with Flag

This week 21 agricultural leaders sent a letter to Congress asking for passage of the Durbin-Brown bill. Add your name to the list and support subsidy reform.

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More Money for Commodities; Less to Conservation?

Just to keep conservation programs running at current levels-where only a dismal one in three projects receive funding-the 2007 Farm Bill needs to provide $2 billion in additional funding. If the Senate doesn't find more money, conservation will actually see a cut in funding. After months of delays, next week two Senate committees are scheduled to mark-up the farm bill. Since the Finance Committee holds the purse strings, they will determine how much additional funding will be available and are staking a claim to how that money is spent. It is likely they will come up with an additional $5 to $7 billion, nearly all of which is earmarked for a new permanent disaster program. However, the permanent disaster program could come at the expense of funding priorities like conservation, healthy diets and renewable energy.

In the face of such a bleak outcome, momentum continues to build behind the Durbin-Brown Farm Safety Net Improvement Act, which would provide better protection at a lower cost with a revenue-based program. However, a stalemate within the Senate Agriculture Committee has been dragging on for months. Help the discussions move in a positive direction and take action now before next week's meetings.

New Study: Current Commodity Programs and Crop Insurance Damage the Land

A new study released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that access to commodity programs and crop insurance are key factors in motivating farmers to plow up native grass land into crop land [PDF]. The study shows that crop insurance, in particular, is encouraging the conversion of marginal land into cropland by greatly limiting the risks for farmers to produce crops on land that has been, historically, less productive. "We need to have farm policy that protects farmers from the vagaries of economic and weather cycles, but also protects the environment from unintended consequences," said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). "Today, rising prices for commodities are creating powerful incentives to put marginal acres into crop production. So the need for federal policy to actively promote good conservation on working land is greater than ever."

Conservation Still Underfunded

Switchgrass

Farm Bill Likely to Spur Investment in Renewable Energy

The farm bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee increased funding for programs that would boost many renewable energy technologies, and the Senate version is expected to do the same, if the money can be found. Below are two leading examples of renewable energy from our farms and ranches that will boost our domestic fuel supply, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and provide new sources of income for farmers and rural businesses.

Ethanol from Switchgrass
Switchgrass has been touted as the next miracle crop of the renewable fuel industry. It's a fast-growing variety of prairie grass that once grew wild across the eastern United States and has the potential to grow in areas from the Great Plains all the way to the Southeast. Could switchgrass soon replace corn as the primary feedstock of the renewable fuel industry?

Cow

What is the chemistry behind methane digesters?

Electricity from Manure
In the United States, the cows, chickens, pigs and sheep we raise for food release 28 percent of all methane gas [PDF]. But what if all that waste could be turned into energy and the greenhouse gases eliminated in the process? Methane biodigesters, which have been around for over 30 years, are expected to make a comeback due to new technologies and better government support. By burning waste methane produced in animals' guts and using the heat to power a generator, digesters could help meet electricity needs while destroying methane-a powerful greenhouse gas.

Media Update

You Can Survive Without Subsidies
Now that government subsidies for growing tobacco are gone, exports are up and tobacco is a profitable crop. The Wall Street Journal says critics of subsidies for cotton, rice, soybean, corn and wheat producers point to the tobacco example as proof that you can survive (and profit) without subsidies.

What's Really Going on Behind the Scenes?
Veteran farm policy journalist Dan Morgan opined on what's really going on behind the scenes in the Senate. The key question on everyone's minds? Where will the money come from to fund priorities such as a new safety net for farmers, increased conservation and farmland protection, healthy and local foods, and nutrition programs?

Shifting Captains in the Middle of the Farm Bill
Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns' resignation before the 2007 Farm Bill is complete so that he may return to Nebraska and run for a Senate seat sparked criticism of his decision to leave. The Washington Post tapped AFT President Ralph Grossi, one of Johanns' supporters, for comments on his achievements.

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