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Friday, Apr. 18, 2014

Area growers reflect on Farm Bill

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

After a long wait, attitudes upbeat on legislation.

With the passage of a Senate farm bill this week, area farmers are waiting for the two houses of Congress to come to a compromise before coming to any conclusions.

However, farmers are glad Washington, D.C., has found time to work on a farm bill in the post-Sept. 11 world.

Aurelia farmer Dan Winterhof said members of Congress are showing support for farmers.

"With all the things politicians have to deal with, we're pleased they got to work with the farm bill and to get it passed," said Winterhof, who raises hogs and crops and is president of the Cherokee County Farm Bureau. "I would urge Congress to move forward in the conference committee and take all the necessary action there."

Several provisions local farmers and livestock producers are looking at on the Senate farm bill include a ban on meatpackers from owning animals they slaughter and a limit of $275,000 on subsidies, which is 40 percent less than current levels.

"Including payment limitations on government payments is a positive thing for the majority of farmers in the state of Iowa," Winterhof said. "Also, the fact that they included language on packer ownership of livestock is a good win for small, independent farmers."

The Senate farm bill has $45 billion in new spending over the next five years, with increases in grain subsidies and more than double the amount of spending for conservation programs.

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee and authored the farm bill, said it "substantially" improves current policies for farmers and rural America.

"This new bipartisan farm bill is an important victory for the economy of rural America, and it couldn't come at a more crucial time," Harkin said in a statement. "Our family farmers and rural communities are struggling and this bill offers some hope for the future. This is the economic recovery package rural and small town America needs. It will bring new jobs, new markets and greater opportunity."

Increased conservation spending is a benefit for local farmers.

"In general, it's good to keep intact the money available for long-term conservation programs," Winterhof said. "It promotes good land stewardship."

Harkin said he is proud the bill provides a further commitment to conservation. "That's good for our family farmers and its good for our environment," he said.

Iowa's Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge also praised the conservation aspects of the Senate farm bill.

"It is great news that the farm bill has passed. Not only does it put in place a strong safety net for Iowa farmers, but also adds more environmental protection incentives to preserve our precious land, water and wildlife," she said. "The passage of the farm bill is a win for all of us in Iowa."

However, there are concerns with some aspects of the Senate farm bill, including the possibility of it violating subsidy limits under international trade agreements.

Emily Eide, director of national affairs for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, said debate over the farm bill has focused on limits for domestic support in light of policies set forth by the World Trade Organization. Those trade agreements ban some forms of domestic support, and call for reductions in others.

International trade agreements are something those in the ag community should keep aware of, she said.

"It's important to the farm bill debate in this country because international trade agreements affect how we can use some programs," Eide said. She spoke at the Storm Lake Ag Expo last month.

Those same agreements have helped make for a unique debate on domestic farm policy, she added.

"When debate first started on the farm bill in January of 2001, there were three things that were unique," she said. "There was a budget surplus, different ag groups were in general agreement on what was needed, and for the first time there were international trade agreements affecting domestic policy."

Spending levels and payments limits are two issues both the House of Representatives and Senate will work on in committee. Harkin has said everything in the bill is open to negotiation.

Congressman Tom Latham is eager to see the House and Senate work together on the bill.

"Hopefully we'll get to conference very quickly on that and begin to work out the bill with the one written in the House of Representatives," Latham said in his weekly conference call.

Latham said the Senate bill has a lot of additional spending over the five years, which may cause the need for spending increases or cuts after that.

While the Senate vote was close to partisan lines, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley was one of eight other Republicans who voted for the bill.

"Unlike the bill that came out of the Agriculture Committee, this bill contains key measures that are good for Iowa's family farmers and taxpayers," he told the Associated Press. "It targets assistance to small and mid-sized producers, injects greater competition into the industry and improves the quality of life in rural America. Family farmers can rest assured that we've taken key steps to look out for their interests by capping farm subsidies and limiting packer ownership of livestock.

"Even thought the Senate accepted my amendment to rewrite sections of the farm program that prove to be non-compliant with our international trade agreements, I'm still concerned that the bill doesn't go far enough. Trade is absolutely critical to the family farmer and I don't want to see our farmers face legal retaliation by our trading partners."

Information on the bills, S. 1731 and H.R. 2646, can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov/ and the Senate Agriculture Committee's web site is available at http://agriculture.senate.gov.



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