October 01, 2009

HARVEST TIME

By Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

"When tillage begins other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization."
-Daniel Webster (quote displayed in the U.S. Capitol)

Fall harvest has arrived once again; before it passes, let's reflect upon the benefits Idaho agriculture brings to our state, our nation and the world. Harvest has traditionally been a time to reap and store crops planted throughout the year, enabling families to persevere through hard winters. Today, with advances in science and technology, harvest time produces enough to feed more people than previously imaginable. As harvest commences, jobs are created in the fields and processing sheds, and trucks and trains distribute and deliver a safe, abundant and affordable food supply to stores and, ultimately, to our tables.

This year, however, in a struggling economy, farm families, like others, are facing tough economic times. High input costs, tightening credit, and unstable prices are taking a toll on farms and ranches. The dairy industry, with prices falling below operating costs, is an unfortunate example. Idaho farmers and ranchers are strong; they will overcome hard times, as they have before. Agriculture has helped us through economic turmoil in the past and will do so again. I am working in Congress to ensure that our federal farm programs are best utilized and improved to enable producers to weather the current economic difficulties.

The 2008 Farm Bill provides a safety net for producers while improving and boosting funding for specialty crops, conservation, renewable energy, and nutrition programs. It also addresses the important areas of rural development, trade, energy, research, farm credit and other programs to help U.S. producers remain competitive. USDA farm loans to Idaho farmers increased 200 percent in FY 2009; an indication of the troubled economic times on our farms. While this bill was being written, I advocated for changes important to Idaho agriculture, and I will continue to work for programs that enable agriculture to succeed.

Even during this economic downturn, Idaho's family farms remain the underpinning of many Idaho communities. According to the Idaho Department of Labor, agriculture provides nearly 20 percent of all jobs in the state. Most people are familiar with Idaho's famous potatoes, but the Idaho Department of Agriculture also lists Idaho among the top ten states in the nation for 26 other categories of crops and livestock. During a downturn in the economy, it becomes more apparent that Idaho agriculture is a stabilizing force for the job market and the economy overall.

A comprehensive national policy of energy independence would be an excellent way to aid the ailing economy and agriculture at the same time. We should encourage, rather than discourage, domestic oil and natural gas production; encourage more clean energy from nuclear and hydropower; and create incentives for renewables and alternatives such as geothermal, wind, solar and biomass. Energy independence is a win-win proposal. It will lower energy prices overall and lower fuel and fertilizer costs for producers. The benefits would be seen in the budgets of individual Americans and also of Idaho's farms and ranches, bringing added stability for Idahoans and the economy.

Soon harvest will conclude, bringing feelings of satisfaction for farmers as a result of hard work and financial investment. Technology has made the modern harvest something that would amaze previous generations. Our local grocery stores are evidence of the safe, abundant and affordable food supply provided by Idaho's modern agricultural industry. During harvest, let's remember the importance of agriculture to Idaho's economy, our families and our daily lives. For more information on Idaho agriculture, please go to my website, http://crapo.senate.gov.

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