June 17, 2008

FARM COMMODITIES: IDAHO'S BREAD AND BUTTER

By Senator Mike Crapo

Hummus, a dip made from cooked pureed chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice and salt, has become a popular deli item in many grocery stores. East Indian food and restaurants have grown in popularity as well, and two main ingredients used in these dishes are lentils and chickpeas. Worldwide, dried peas and beans are a nutrition staple. Barley is vital for the livestock industry-over half of the barley consumed domestically is used for animal feed. Forty-four percent is used for malt production. And the essential role that wheat, cheese, milk and sugar play in most people's diets is indisputable. These diverse food items have at least one thing in common: Idaho is in the top ten producing states for them. In fact, Idaho is the third largest manufacturer of natural and processed cheese and the fourth largest producer of milk. Lentils, a crop in which Idaho is ranked fourth in production nationally, are grown across central Idaho from Idaho to Kootenai Counties; chickpea crops can be found in this region and Bonneville and Power Counties as well. Barley is grown approximately 40 Idaho counties-almost every one-and wheat comes in at a close second. Sugarbeets are produced in a sweeping arc from Washington County, through the Treasure and Magic Valleys to Bingham County. The majority of Idaho's dairy producers are in the Magic Valley, but dairy farms reach across the state from the north to southwestern and Eastern Idaho. Cattle and sheep are raised in many regions of the state and, of course, Idaho remains most famous for its potato crop.

Idaho crops are sold domestically and internationally as part of our thriving agriculture industry-in Fiscal Year 2007, it meant $5.6 billion in cash receipts or more than 10,000 jobs in food production, processing, storage and transportation. The 2008 Farm Bill is in its final stages in Congress, and the Commodity Title enables Idaho farmers to remain in the business of providing food to Americans and for export to other countries, including Canada, Japan, Mexico, China, Taiwan and Korea. Approximately 20 percent of Idaho's agriculture products are exported to other countries.

For the first time, pulse crops (dry peas, lentils and chickpeas) are eligible for Counter-Cyclical program assistance, which helps producers when commodity prices are low. Forward contracts between dairy producers and handlers who use milk for manufacturing purposes are authorized.  Direct payment rates are maintained throughout the life of the 2008 Farm Bill with a reduction in payment acres between 2009 - 2011. New to this Farm Bill, the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) gives producers the option to agree to a 20 percent reduction in direct payments and a 30 percent reduction in loan rates to participate in a new state-level revenue protection program. To make U.S. - produced beet sugar more competitive internationally, the loan rate will be increased and the sugar marketing allotment quota program will be extended.

Programs under the Commodity Title provide a safety net for U.S. agriculture producers, helping them remain competitive in an expanding global market. These programs protect American producers against unfair trade practices in foreign countries, namely, anti-competitive tariff and non-tariff trade barriers. And, while the Commodity Title is important, many don't realize that a majority of Farm Bill funding (two-thirds) actually goes toward nutrition programs, not commodity programs. Commodity programs are a portion of a comprehensive Farm Bill that also provides for rural development, trade, energy, agriculture research, conservation and other programs to help U.S. producers be competitive in their businesses, provide healthy food options for consumers and help our nation maintain a high level of food security.

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