July 26, 2006

FARM POLICY: WHERE CAN WE IMPROVE?

Guest opinion by Senator Mike Crapo

The Farm Bill is one of the most significant economic and environmental public policy initiatives in our nation today. With the current farm bill set to expire next year, Congress is gathering information on farm policy effectiveness and taking suggestions for improvements. This is a great opportunity for Idahoans to, once again this year, be part of this historical process.The 2002 Farm Bill, drafted in early 2001, was written at a time when our nation was anticipating a significant budget surplus. Then, costs of domestic terrorism and natural disaster recovery changed the picture--both increasing government spending and contributing to a slump in the U.S. economy.Now, five years later, our economy is growing at a steady, stable rate with a noticeable reduction in the deficit due to increased tax revenues. Still, the federal government remains solidly â??in the red.â?? Also, expanding world markets introduce another dynamic into the process as we consider the next farm bill.Itâ??s in this budget climate that deliberations begin on a new farm bill. Consequently, discussions about the shape and direction of the upcoming legislation require deliberate, thorough and thoughtful feedback. These discussions are only productive with input from farmers, ranchers, agricultural organizations and other interested individuals and communities. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I held 23 listening sessions in Idaho in January to gather input for the next farm bill. I was impressed with the participation and meaningful discussions at those meetings. Issues raised mirror larger interests of many Americans: fuel costs, expanded renewable energy sources, farm input costs, food safety and the importance of fair and equal treatment in international markets. Other areas of interest included commodity crop programs, specialty crop assistance, nutrition programs, agriculture research funding and conservation programs. Concerns about funding sources, outlook for the future and bigger picture risk issues were also brought up. The Senate Agriculture Committee is now holding field hearings nationwide regarding federal farm policy. These, like the listening sessions in January, allow policy makers the opportunity to find out what is working and what needs to be improved upon. These field hearings include input from local stakeholders from the agriculture, conservation, forestry and nutrition communities. Thus far, the Senate Agriculture Committee has conducted full committee field hearings in Georgia, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Iowa. I will chair a Forestry, Conservation and Rural Revitalization Subcommittee hearing at the University of Idaho in Moscow on August 11; three additional full committee field hearings are planned for Nebraska, Montana and Oregon in August. Depending on the outcome of these hearings, the Committee may hold more this fall. As many know, a successful farm bill will support efficient programs that work on the ground now and years down the road. Successful also means cost-effective for the agriculture industry and the government. Success results from comprehensive input into the policy process. Many individuals, organizations and industry professionals have provided valuable insight and helpful recommendations at this point, but we are still gathering data. Therefore, I encourage input and comments as we get closer to the drafting process which is expected next year. Please join me on Friday, August 11, at the hearing in Moscow to be part of this process in person. I value Idaho stakeholdersâ?? continued participation in this proactive legislative process. Federal farm policy not only benefits rural America, it represents stability and security for our entire country. To submit comments, please go to my website: http://crapo.senate.gov, and click on Agriculture [Farm Bill] under â??Issues in Brief.â?? WORD COUNT: 583