Crapo, Agriculture Committee approves Senate Farm Bill
Washington, DC - Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, says the 2007 Farm Bill approved in Committee today will be beneficial for Idaho producers. Senator Crapo supported the legislation that passed the Committee by voice vote following consideration over the past two days. The legislation continues and expands programs important to farmers and ranchers, including specialty crop, wheat, barley, pulse crop, sugar, organic, and wool producers. While work needs to be done to improve conservation program funding and a new Average Crop Revenue option, overall the legislation would build upon past Farm Bills, and set U.S. agriculture on the right course.
The bill makes vast new investments in specialty crop programs. Many of the provisions in the Specialty Crops Competition Act, championed by Idaho Senator Larry Craig and co-sponsored by Crapo, were incorporated into the Farm Bill. The legislation would expand the Specialty Crop Block Grant program to $270 million over five years in mandatory funding-a substantial increase over the present $44.5 million annually. Idaho is one of the nation's leading specialty crop producers, excelling in the production of potatoes, apples, cherries, mint, onions and other specialty crops.
Another of Idaho's leading crops, pulse crops, would also be made eligible for the first time for Counter-Cyclical Program assistance, and a number of provisions were included in the bill that will assist with Idaho water challenges. The legislation includes a $2 million Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer pilot program that would assist with regional water conservation and quality activities in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer Region. Additionally, a new Rangeland Research Pilot Program would further the goals of Crapo's proposed Owyhee Initiative by providing grants to institutions for collaborative science review, conservation and research in Owyhee County.
During the markup, Crapo noted other programs important to Idaho. "I appreciate the inclusion of Noninsured Assistance Program coverage for aquaculture producers impacted by drought, the continuation of the conservation programs and technical service, the inclusion of provisions for a framework for environmental services markets, and efforts to improve CSP. The significant investment in agricultural energy programs will assist producers with contributing to energy independence. I am pleased to note that through changes made to Project SEARCH model, small financially distressed rural communities in Idaho and across the nation will have increased access to federal assistance in the early stages of water, wastewater, and waste disposal projects."
Crapo said the school fruit and vegetable program he helped pilot in Idaho's schools will continue in the new bill with increased funding. "I have visited Idaho schools and seen firsthand how welcome the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program has been to Idaho students," he added. "The expansion of this program to all states will further the effort to provide healthy food choices for students across the nation."
The Tax Title for the Farm Bill, which has already been approved by the Senate Finance Committee, also includes Crapo's efforts to bring needed improvements to the Endangered Species Act through incentives for landowners to assist species recovery by changes to the tax code. He noted most threatened and endangered species reside on private property. Crapo's measure passed the committee with strong bipartisan support earlier this month.
Although Crapo supports the 2007 Farm Bill markup, he indicated that it is not a perfect bill, and he is hopeful that further improvements can be made throughout the process. "For example, it unfortunately, falls short on continued spending for conservation programs," Crapo said. "I understand the budget challenges, but a broader investment is needed in working lands conservation such as EQIP, which has been widely utilized for all of our benefit," he said. "I also understand the challenges with making up for the lack of baseline funding for the Grassland Reserve Program, but the level of funding provided for GRP would be insufficient to meet the demand for the program."
Crapo said he would again raise objections to the overly-costly and ineffective Milk Income Loss Contract program, which benefits producers in a narrow region of the country. He also criticized a $100 million pilot program for the use of cash for foreign food aid purchases, calling it "frivolous and misdirected".
Today's markup clears the way for Senate floor consideration of the Farm Bill. Further changes can be expected as the legislation is debated on the Senate floor this fall.
A copy of the Farm Bill summary is available at Crapo's website at http://crapo.senate.gov.