September 07, 2005

LISTENING TO IDAHO AGRICULTURE

Guest opinion submitted by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

Agriculture is the bedrock of many Idaho communities and plays an important role in most. As such, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the programs it oversees affect virtually the entire state. When agriculture industries show signs of success or failure, it stands to reason that those most directly affected by Farm Bill policy should be the ones to offer support or constructive criticism.Idahoans had a unique opportunity to do just that first hand this past week at the Eastern Idaho State Fair in Blackfoot, Idaho. When I learned that Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns would be holding Farm Bill listening sessions nationwide, I wrote to him to encourage him to conduct a session in Idaho. We are fifth in the nation in irrigated acres and produce 144 different commodities for domestic and international markets. The importance of Idaho agriculture cannot be understated when it comes to nutrition, the environment and the economy. The 25,000 farms that spread throughout our beautiful state serve as continuous proving grounds for United States farm policy. Clearly, Idaho farmers and ranchers are well-placed to evaluate the impact and direction of farm programs, and their input can improve and streamline the formation and implementation of these programs.Secretary Johanns sent Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey to gather input on USDA programs, and the response was overwhelming. Over 160 people representing every major commodity group in Idaho attended and voiced their concerns on a variety of issues. The strongest message from Idahoans was a call for continued support for farm programs that level the playing field in national and international markets. Some voiced support for domestic and international market development as well as support for further research and development of agriculture-based energy products. Rural development and water infrastructure was on the minds of some and there were requests for additional support for conservation programs. There was interest expressed in the nutrition programs provided through the Farm Bill. Idahoans also recognize the absolute necessity of keeping young farmers and ranchers in business. Those in agriculture understand preserving and improving the land for the beneficial use of future generations. They also have multi-generational knowledge and experience with farm programs--what works and what doesnâ??t. These folks are the best resource for the agency personnel who direct programs from the federal level.I congratulate the state and federal agencies in their efforts to make this listening session a success for both the visiting USDA officials and making themselves available to Idahoans in their capacity as agency personnel. I appreciate Secretary Reyâ??s visit and the willingness of Secretary Johanns to recognize the importance of on the ground input into the process of crafting wise federal farm policy. As Congress prepares to reauthorize the Farm Bill, itâ??s essential that we formulate legislation that is responsive to Idahoâ??s agriculture industries and rural communities.