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March 24, 2010   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
March 24, 2010

Farmers from Barbour, Choctaw, Fayette and Mobile counties were among about 200 Alabama Farmers Federation members who traveled to Washington this week to meet with their senators and congressmen on key agricultural issues. From left are Trip and Mendy Horne of Barbour County, Cheryl and Jeff Lassiter of Choctaw County, Debbie and Joe Roberts of Fayette County and Blake Nicholas of Mobile County.
WASHINGTON, D.C., March 24 -- Increasing agricultural exports could be the key to improving America's economy, according to Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., who spoke to 200 Alabama farmers in Washington, D.C. today.

Lincoln, chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, told members of the Alabama Farmers Federation that President Obama sees exports as a way to boost America's economy.

"What better way to do that than with agriculture," she said, noting that trade agreements are pending with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. She said she is surprised those final agreements are taking so long.

"Our borders are open to all of their products duty-free, and we're arguing whether or not their borders should be open to our products duty free?" she said. "It is a no-brainer. You think of the poultry and the rice -- so many other products -- that we could provide that they would love to have. We take their flowers; we take their bananas, and we take some of their other products. That's what trade is about."

Lincoln said she favors free trade with Cuba, noting that Alabama is a prime candidate for increased exports for agricultural goods to that country if the self-imposed U.S. embargo is lifted.

Lincoln also urged farmers to tell their congressmen about what's happening on their farms back home while they here this week.

"Agriculture is not a glamorous issue up here, quite frankly because most of them up here don't understand it," said Lincoln, who grew up on a farm. "It's important to make them understand what is important to you -- whether you've got a poultry or cattle business or you're a row-crop farmer. They need to understand what you're up against, and we need to make sure farmers are at the table when decisions are made. We can be part of the solution, not the problem, when we're talking about the environment, trade and energy."

Lincoln also spoke about her work to reform federal estate tax laws. A position that she said was contrary to many fellow Democrats in Congress.

"I have been working hard to reform the estate tax laws for farmers, ranchers and small businesses," she said. "I don't believe there is a person in this room who believes that you should work all of your life as an American, whether you're a farmer or not, to find at the end of your life you are going to be responsible for paying 55 percent of what you have done to the government. That's ludicrous."

Lincoln was referring to efforts by some congressmen to impose a new, lower threshold for estate tax exemptions, possibly as low as $1 million per household, and reinstating a tax rate of 55 percent on estates exceeding that amount.

Farmers heard from American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman regarding trade, environmental regulations and tax issues. They also were updated on the political climate in Washington, much of which involved the upcoming congressional elections.

Thursday morning, farmers from each of Alabama's seven congressional districts are scheduled to have breakfast with their respective congressman or a member of his staff. Later that day, farmers are scheduled to have lunch with U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions. Many farmers also will meet in small groups with congressmen and their staff on specific commodity-related issues.

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