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April 23, 2008   Email to Friend 

Darryal Ray
(334) 613-4187
April 23, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President George W. Bush has asked Congress to give up its deadlocked discussions over a $600 billion farm law and pass a one-year extension of the 2002 law by Friday, a move that Sen. Tom Harkin says "makes me think they do not want a new bill."

"The administration continues to dig in its heels on the farm bill by rejecting reasonable offsets that the White House itself used for other legislation and by now calling for a one year extension of current law," said Harkin, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and the Senate-House conference committee on the farm bill. The most recent extension of the bill is due to expire Friday.

"The President's call for an extension is just the latest example of this administration's lack of cooperation to enact a new, stronger farm bill," he said. " It makes me think that they do not want a new bill -- one that makes investments in energy, conservation and nutrition or that extends support for growers of fruits, vegetables and horticultural crops. What we need is for the President to roll up his sleeves and cooperate with the Congress so that we can get this bill done."

According to a report by Reuters, Bush administration officials were scheduled to meet senior lawmakers on Thursday to discuss funding. A spending increase of $9.5 billion over 10 years was discussed when the group met on Wednesday. It would be a significant drop from spending levels originally backed by Congress.

Harkin said Wednesday that the committee had approved three major initiatives of the bill: crop insurance, the Commodity Reauthorization Act and support for fruit and vegetable growers.

"Each conference meeting brings us closer to a new farm bill. Today, in shoring up resources for crop insurance, growers of fruits and vegetables and in increasing security and regulation over commodity trading," said Harkin. "The adoption of these titles moves toward our overall goal of passing a strong, national bill."

Highlights of the provisions agreed to today include:

Crop Insurance:

"The crop insurance program plays a critical role in protecting farm income and in fixing policy problems that have emerged since our last crop insurance legislation in 2000," said Harkin

-- Clarifies rebating rules and treatment of farmers as crop insurance agents under Federal Crop Insurance statute.

-- Allows groups developing new crop insurance products to get up to 50 percent of their estimated expenses in advance.

-- Authorizes the Risk Management Agency to renegotiate the Standard Reinsurance Agreement in the 2013 reinsurance year, or earlier, if adverse circumstances arise.

-- Repeals authority for the Premium Reduction Plan.

-- Requires the Risk Management Agency to conduct studies or undertake research and development on a number of issues and potential commodity insurance policies, including organic crop insurance premiums and price election, crop insurance policies for beginning farmers, skip-row cultivation practices, dedicated energy crops, aquaculture, poultry production, and policies for bee-keeping operations.

CEA Reauthorization Title:

"This reauthorization brings much-needed updates to the Commodity Exchange Act: ensuring it will provide greater transparency and accountability in our energy markets, provide the public with greater protection from fraud, and increase the monetary penalties for violations of the Act to help deter people from attempting to game energy markets or other markets," said Harkin.

-- Provides greater transparency and accountability for energy markets that influence the prices that consumers and businesses pay (the Feinstein-Levin Bill).

-- Extends the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) fraud authority to principal-to-principal futures transactions.

-- Expands the civil and criminal penalties for violating the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA).

Fruit, Vegetable and Horticulture:

"This farm bill is a tremendous achievement for the specialty crop industry, which faces unique challenges in today's competitive global marketplace," said Harkin. "This farm bill provides fruit and vegetable growers with the tools they need to address those challenges. The investment for these growers is historic, and greatly expands the nationwide reach, benefit and importance of this legislation."

-- Promotes Organics: The Specialty Crops title includes a provision authorizing greater funding levels for the National Organic Program in order to ensure proper compliance and oversight.

-- Greater Transparency in USDA Purchasing Processes: This provision mandates an independent evaluation of the purchasing processes used by the Department of Agriculture. This evaluation will bring greater transparency to the processes that the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) at USDA uses under its Section 32 authority to buy perishable commodities.

-- Grant Program to Improve the Movement of Specialty Crops: The title includes a provision that strengthens our national transportation infrastructure for specialty crops by authorizing the Secretary to make grants to State and local governments, grower cooperatives, and producer, shipper and carrier organizations in order to improve the cost-effective movement of specialty crops throughout the United States.

-- Food Safety Education Initiative: This provision authorizes a new program at USDA to educate the fresh produce industry and the public about ways to strengthen food safety by reducing pathogens in fresh produce and implementing sanitary food handling practices.

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