Farmers urge Congress to act on farm legislation
By Christine Souza
American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman, at the lectern, voices his support for swift passage of a new five-year farm bill during the Farm Bill Now rally in Washington, D.C., as other farm and congressional leaders listen.
Hundreds of participants from across the country, including farmers, congressional members and other leaders from agriculture, conservation, energy, consumer and nutrition organizations, rallied in Washington, D.C., last week for passage of a new, five-year federal farm bill.
Time is running out before the 2008 Farm Bill expires on Sept. 30.
Two California Farm Bureau Federation representatives, Rayne Pegg and Josh Rolph of the CFBF Federal Policy Division, joined other Californians and leaders of the American Farm Bureau and other state Farm Bureaus in the "Farm Bill Now" rally to express support for swift passage of new national farm policy.
The full House of Representatives has not yet acted on the version of the farm bill adopted by the House Agriculture Committee in July.
The upcoming November election led House leaders to announce last Friday that they will not be in session in October. With so little time left to work on a new farm bill, a short-term extension of existing programs would be the only realistic solution, although an expiration of the law becomes increasingly likely, Pegg said.
In an attempt to accelerate the process, Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, filed a discharge petition with the House last Thursday to bring the House Agriculture Committee bill to the floor for a vote. If at least 218 House members sign the petition, the farm bill would be brought to the floor under an open rule, which observers said would be difficult to manage given the polarized views in the House. Pegg said it is unlikely the discharge petition would garner the necessary signatures to be brought to the floor.
The farm bill contains funds for conservation, research, nutrition, pest and disease management, forestry and market development programs as well as commodity programs for rice, wheat, cotton and dairy.
The Senate passed its version of the farm bill in June. It ends crop support payments streamlines and consolidates programs, and reduces the deficit by $23.6 billion. The current House bill saves $35 billion during 10 years compared to current farm bill spending.
Pegg said CFBF remains focused on urging Congress to pass a comprehensive, five-year bill.
"The House Agriculture Committee approved the bill with a bipartisan vote of 35-11. The full House should take up this measure so that a conference committee might have the opportunity to reach a compromise before the end of the year," she said.
While members of Congress were back in their home districts during the summer recess, county Farm Bureaus held meetings and farm tours to discuss farm bill passage and other issues important to farmers and ranchers.
After a request for an on-farm tour from Sean Dillon, legislative aide for Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands—a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee—Kathye Rietkerk and husband Jim Rietkerk opened the doors to their nursery, Kallisto Greenhouses in Fontana.
"The initiation came from the staff member. When they call and ask if they could come see you, I see that as a breakthrough," said Kathye Rietkerk, president of the San Bernardino County Farm Bureau. "He had never seen anything like what we do. It really is an opportunity for them to see what agriculture does. There are so many facets of agriculture and he had no idea what a greenhouse nursery is about."
While visiting with Dillon, Rietkerk said, they discussed issues including the importance of passing a new farm bill, maintaining its Specialty Crop Title, and supporting research for specialty crops. In addition, they discussed the impact that regulations have on small family businesses such as the Rietkerks' greenhouse operation.
"We feel that the staff members of the people in Congress are an important link. They are a vital part of the whole process," Rietkerk added.
San Bernardino County Farm Bureau Executive Director Gayle Covey met with Michael Townsend, staff member for Rep. Joe Baca, D-Rialto—a member of the House Agriculture Committee—to discuss the farm bill and other issues.
Norm Groot, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau, said his organization meets as often as possible with Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, who serves on the Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee, and maintains an ongoing dialogue with his office on the farm bill, immigration and water quality issues.
In the Central Valley, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, attended a Fresno County Farm Bureau board meeting during the recess to discuss farm bill priorities. Last week, Costa announced his involvement with a bipartisan group of members of Congress who called for the House to bring up the farm bill before it adjourns for the election.
"Now is the time to do what American agriculture expects of us, roll up our sleeves and get to work," Costa said. "It's that simple; we need a farm bill now."
At the Farm Bill Now rally, AFBF President Bob Stallman spoke of the diverse group gathered to urge Congress to take action.
"Perhaps never in the history of farm legislation have so many diverse farmer and rancher voices joined together for such a common call for action on a farm bill," said Stallman, who emceed the event. "We gather here under a banner adorned with three words: Farm Bill Now. And we are here to raise our voices toward Capitol Hill for a shared purpose."
The Farm Bill Now rally brought together 89 agriculture organizations including Farm Bureau, the National Farmers Union, Western Growers, Dairy Farmers of America, Milk Producers Council, United Fresh Produce Association and the National Cattleman's Beef Association. For more information, see www.FarmBillNow.com.
(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at email@example.com.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.