ALABAMA FARMERS TESTIFY BEFORE HOUSE AG COMMITTEE
AUBURN, Ala., Feb. 7 -- Alabama farmers pinched by low commodity prices and soaring fuel and fertilizer costs asked members of the U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee to preserve current price support and conservation programs during a full committee hearing on the 2007 Farm Bill Feb. 7.
|Alabama Congressman Terry Everett, second from right, discusses agricultural issues with Alabama farmers following a hearing on the 2007 Farm Bill by the House Ag Committee Feb. 7 in Auburn. From left are, Elmore County Farmers Federation President Richard Edgar, Federation State Beef Committee Member Garry Henry of Montgomery County, Everett and Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry A. Newby.|
"The safety net that is in place now should continue to be there so that our farmers can continue to produce the most affordable, dependable and safest food in the world," said Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry A. Newby. "Having the ability to produce the nation's food is a matter of national security, and we only have to look at the situation with energy to see what happens when we depend on others."
Newby was among 11 farmers who testified at the hearing, which was the second of about a dozen planned by the House Agriculture Committee this year. Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said the hearings give members a chance to hear from farmers who will be affected by changes that may made when the farm bill is reauthorized in 2007.
"Strong agricultural policy is vital to our farmers and ranchers," Goodlatte said. "To ensure that American agriculture remains competitive and that our producers can continue to provide fellow Americans with a safe, inexpensive and wholesome food supply, we must hear from the frontlines."
Goodlatte began his questioning of the farmers by asking them to prioritize what farm programs are most important, if budget cuts are necessary. The farm panelists were in agreement that agriculture should not be targeted for cuts, noting that the 2002 Farm Bill has served producers well and has been a good value for taxpayers.
"The 2002 law has provided a well-balanced approach to commodity, conservation, nutrition and rural development programs and has been less expensive than originally projected," said Barbour County farmer Walt Corcoran. "Input prices such as fuel, fertilizer, technology and seed and commodity prices -- as well as the weather -- are all, for the most part, out of the producer's control. That is why we need a stable and consistent farm policy. It provides the essential foundation upon which we build long-term plans. We have such a policy in the 2002 Farm Bill."
Montgomery County beef cattle producer Garry Henry spoke in favor of mandatory country-of-origin labeling and a national animal identification system. He also said Congress should "support incentives to expand the production of ethanol, biodiesel and other energy sources such as those manufactured from animal waste."
Regarding conservation initiatives in current farm policy, Henry said farmers support the erosion-control objectives of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), but he expressed concerns about expanding the program. Young farmers, he said, are finding it difficult to rent land because they can't compete with the rental rates offered by USDA through the CRP.
Elmore County farmer James Harwell called on the Committee to expand disaster assistance programs to include greenhouse, nursery and sod operations -- many of which were hit hard by hurricanes in 2004 and 2005. Meanwhile, Alabama Peanut Producers President Carl Sanders of Coffee County urged the USDA to lower loan repayment rates in order to expand export opportunities for American-grown peanuts.
Among the members of the House Agriculture Committee on hand for the hearing were Alabama congressmen Terry Everett, Mike Rogers and Jo Bonner.
Goodlatte and other members of the Committee expressed their commitment to providing programs that enhance the profitability of American agriculture but warned budget constraints would factor into the 2007 Farm Bill debate.
"On the last farm bill, we had a budget surplus for the first time in 30 years," said Goodlatte. "That's a situation we no longer find ourselves in. We are facing budget deficits again. The president has been offering tight budgets, and we've been responding as best we can. We don't know how much money will be made available to us next year when we write the farm bill."
Newby said threats to change farm programs cause a hardship for farmers and their lenders.
"We in agriculture understand about budgeting and have always been willing to accept our fair cuts. But, we think that agriculture has paid more than its fair share in these budget cuts, especially the commodity, conservation and research programs," Newby said. "We just ask that cuts in the federal budget be done across the board, equally. This farm bill has cost less than what was originally projected by the Congressional Budget Office when it was enacted in 2002. We feel agriculture should get credit for these savings as well as preserving commodity baseline funding."