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March 13, 2009   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
March 13, 2009

Washington, D.C., skyline at night.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Continued funding for farm programs, agricultural research and rural development will be on the agenda March 18-19 when more than 200 Alabama farmers travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with lawmakers, government officials and national farm group leaders.

Alabama Farmers Federation National Affairs Director Keith Gray says the annual Washington Legislative Trip gives the state's farmers a chance to share their ideas and concerns with those who set farm policy.

"Farmers, like the rest of the country, are being hurt by the current economic recession," Gray said. "Decreased demand for agricultural products has caused commodity prices to fall, yet many of the costs of production remain high. Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected net farm income to drop 20 percent in 2009, when compared to last year.

"As Congress and the Obama administration work to get the economy moving again, Alabama farmers want to make sure agriculture is not forgotten," Gray added. "Farming is essential to our national independence and is the backbone of many of our communities. For America to recover economically, farmers must be able to continue producing the food, fiber and fuel we all need."

Of particular interest will be President Obama's budget, which includes language that would make any farmer with gross sales of more than $500,000 ineligible for farm programs. Federation President Jerry A. Newby has sent letters to Alabama congressional delegation opposing the plan, noting that a farmer can have high sales volume and still lose money.

One of Alabama's two newest congressmen, Rep. Bobby Bright, D-Montgomery, will kick off the Washington Legislative Trip at an opening breakfast Wednesday. Later that morning, the state's farmers are scheduled to meet with Tom Christensen, deputy chief of programs for the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. In the afternoon, the group will receive updates from American Farm Bureau Federation policy experts on issues ranging from the environment and water to transportation and the farm bill.

On Thursday, farmers from each of Alabama's seven congressional districts will meet with their respective U.S. representatives during breakfast meetings. These small, informal meetings give the farmers a chance to talk one-on-one with their congressman about how actions in Washington affects families back home in the district.

The culmination of the trip will be a luncheon at the Hart Senate Building with Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions. In addition, small groups of farmers will meet with members of Congress and their staff on specific, commodity-related issues throughout the afternoon.

Another highlight of the trip is a congressional reception for lawmakers and staffers on Wednesday night featuring barbecue provided by Colbert County Farmers Federation President L.O. Bishop.

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