By Senator Mike Crapo
For almost 75 years, the federal government has worked with U.S. agriculture producers to keep domestic food supplies robust and affordable, preserve food security and promote a globally-competitive commodity market. Major agriculture legislation occurred a few times every decade from the 1930s through the 1970s. In 1973, it took the form of an omnibus "farm bill." The 2007 Farm Bill is the latest iteration of this multi-program legislation that provides policymakers the opportunity to comprehensively address federal farm policy.
Everyone in the farm to market supply chain in Idaho knows the critical nature of the Farm Bill. People outside the agriculture industry are gaining better understanding of the scope of this legislation, which affects our nation's food supply, global competitiveness and our environment. After over a year of hearings and town hall meetings in Idaho, I took various criticisms and praise of the 2002 Farm Bill that I gathered to my colleagues in Congress. This input helped us forge ahead with policy improvements as our nation faces ever-changing social, environmental and economic realities.
As with any substantial legislative effort, the end product is never exactly what any one person would prefer. There are parts that will be considered in the Senate with which I disagree, but, overall, Idaho benefits from program extensions and creation or adjustment of others.
Specific examples include:
Ø Specialty crop programs: Idaho is a national leader in specialty crops, particularly potatoes, onions, cherries and mints. The Specialty Crop Block Grant program would be increased to $270 million over five years from the current $44.5 million annually. $200 million for pest and disease threats and $80 million for research is also included in the bill.
Ø Commodities: Wheat, barley, sugar, wool and pulse crop support would continue with some increases. Pulse crops would become eligible for Counter-Cyclical Program assistance.
Ø Water: The legislation includes a $2 million Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer pilot program to assist with regional water conservation and quality. The Noninsured Assistance Program would provide coverage for aquaculture producers impacted by drought.
Ø Conservation: Conservation programs are continued and enhanced. The Conservation Title includes a framework for environmental services markets and improvements to the Conservation Stewardship Program. Unfortunately, the bill doesn't provide adequate funding for conservation programs to meet program demands. I'll continue to work for investments in working lands conservation such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP).
Ø Energy: Significant investment in energy programs would assist producers with efforts that support energy independence.
Ø Changes to Project SEARCH would allow financially-distressed rural communities in Idaho and nationwide access to increased federal assistance.
Ø Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP): I worked to include Idaho's schools in FFVP; the new bill includes $1.1 billion to enable all states to participate. Expanding this program nationwide will further the effort to provide healthy food choices for our children.
Ø Tax Title: Already approved by the Senate Finance Committee, the Tax Title includes my efforts to improve the Endangered Species Act through tax incentives for landowners to assist species recovery. Additionally, this legislation provides participants the option of a tax credit instead of Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program and GRP payments.
Work remains to improve conservation program funding and a new Average Crop Revenue option. However, the legislation builds upon past Farm Bills, and will keep the U.S. focused on helping American agriculture producers toward success. Their success guarantees a secure food supply, competitive global trade and energized businesses that families can be proud of and that will thrive from one generation to the next. For a more comprehensive explanation of separate provisions in the bill, please see my website: http://crapo.senate.gov.
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