STALLMAN: FARM BILL, TRADE TOP NATIONAL FARM AGENDA
MOBILE, Ala., Dec. 4 -- Securing funding for agricultural programs, opening foreign markets to U.S. farm products and capitalizing on the potential of renewable fuels will be priorities for farmers when the new Congress convenes next year, according to American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman, who addressed reporters at a news conference today before speaking to the 85th Annual Meeting of the Alabama Farmers Federation.
|AFBF President Bob Stallman discusses ag issues with reporters during the Alabama Farmers Federation's 85th Annual Meeting in Mobile.|
"There will be a very healthy, long debate about what provisions should be in the new 2007 farm bill," Stallman said. "It's up to us to make the case that farming not only feeds Alabama; farming feeds the rest of the world. It's up to us to make the case on why we need good policies in place that will help support America's farmers."
Stallman, a Texas rice and cattle farmer, is in his fourth term as president of the nation's largest farm organization. He was the keynote speaker of the three-day Farmers Federation meeting, its first since rejoining the AFBF last year. About 1,500 Federation members attended the event.
"One of the best aspects of the job is the opportunity to get out into the countryside and visit with the grassroots because that's what we are about as an organization," Stallman said. "This is where all of our policy positions begin; this is where our membership strength is; and this is where our influence is Washington, D.C. is."
Stallman said the 5.7 million members of the AFBF hope to use their strength in Washington to open foreign markets for U.S. farm products.
"We continue to be challenged with trade issues," he said. "Anybody that raises beef knows that there are a lot of countries in the world that want to find excuses not to take our beef -- South Korea being the most recent one."
Re-opening that market will require federal officials to "be forceful about getting those markets open and keeping them open," Stallman said. "The reality is, we need export markets for us to be successful in the future -- for us to find a home for the products we grow."
Despite claims by other countries that U.S. farm programs distort trade, Stallman noted that America's tariffs actually are lower than those of many nations.
"The rest of the world is grossly distorting their markets with tariffs -- or import taxes if you will -- on products that we send," Stallman said. "The average tariff on agricultural products for our products going to other countries is 62 percent. That's a 62 percent tax added on. The average tariff on agricultural imports into this country is 12 percent. So, the rest of the world is distorting markets five times more than we are, and that's an unlevel playing field."
Stallman said Cuba, which already is importing farm products from Alabama, could be an even better market for agricultural products.
"Cuba is a nice agricultural market for the United States, if we can get into it the way we need to," he said. "The Democrats coming in, I think, next year will be inclined to pass some laws which will open up that market further for trade, particularly in agricultural products or at least make it easier, and hopefully they will be successful."
Alabama farmers were especially interested to hear from Stallman on the prospect of getting a disaster bill passed that would bring relief from this year's drought and last year's storms.
"Weather disasters have hit agriculture to a very great extent across the country over the past two years. This is creating a real problem in certain segments of the country, and we have been supporting a disaster assistance bill to try to help some of those producers make it through some very tough times," Stallman said. "Unfortunately, it's kind of caught up in the political process in Washington, D.C. Prospects are not real good for it to happen in the lame duck session this week, but maybe at the beginning of the next session the next Congress, this next spring early in the session, will be able to get some disaster assistance for agriculture.
"The longer you wait to get that assistance, the less likely it will be to help those who really need it because they won't be able to survive that long," Stallman added. "That's why we've been pushing to make it happen as quickly as possible."
Stallman noted that renewable fuels are "one of the bright spots for American agriculture."
"All of the pieces are in place, and I really think this is going to be a long-term benefit to American agriculture," he said.
In other comments, Stallman said the AFBF is supporting the construction of new reservoirs to help farmers cope with dry weather as well as changes to the crop insurance program that would allow them to better manage their risk.
"The biggest problem we're facing is the inability of us to move forward with some common sense things to manage our water supply better," he said. "The reality is you need water if you are going to have food to eat."