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February 23, 2011   Email to Friend 

Free Trade, Farm Bill Top Farmers' Agenda for D.C. Trip
By Melissa Martin

Free trade agreements, the Clean Air and Clean Water acts and the 2012 Farm Bill will be among the topics Alabama farmers plan to discuss with members of their congressional delegation when they visit the nation's capitol this month.

The trip, set for March 15-18, is an annual meeting for Alabama Farmers Federation leaders who see the summit as a way to put a face on the state's largest industry -- agriculture. With several new members in Congress, this year's meeting will serve as more than just an informative meet-and-greet -- it will also help farmers and business owners call attention to and devise methods for amending one federal agency's exploitation of power.

"The Environmental Protection Agency has overreached their boundaries for regulating agriculture," said Jimmy Carlisle, director of the Alabama Farmers Federation's Department of Governmental and Agricultural Programs. "There is a general feel -- and I think we're going to see -- a continued oversight of the EPA . . . exercising the authority to regulate more than it was commissioned to do so, especially regarding the Clean Water and Clean Air acts."

Despite the recent overhaul in Congress, Alabama should fare well in D.C. thanks, in part, to the state's newly-elected Representatives who are passionate about protecting the backbone of Alabama -- its farmers. "We're fortunate to have three new members -- one congressman, Mo Brooks, of Huntsville; and two congresswomen, Terri Sewell of the 7th District and Martha Roby of the 2nd District, both of whom will also serve on the Ag Committee," said Carlisle. "It's going to be interesting to see how the new leaders position themselves to do things that are good for the country, and especially good for the rural ag sector."

Another focus in D.C., which stems from the American Farm Bureau and will carry over into a grassroots campaign that each state Farm Bureau will address, are free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. "These three agreements represent much increased agricultural exports if we can get them implemented," said AFBF President Bob Stallman. "Given the state of our economy, I think there will even be more emphasis on passing the free trade agreements because they will provide a boost to our economy. And nobody in political office can ignore the very great economic importance of trade to America's economy."

According to a release from the American Farm Bureau, once fully implemented, the Korea free trade agreement would trigger $1.8 billion annually in agriculture exports. Gains in exports through the Colombia agreement are estimated at $815 million, while the Panama agreement is estimated to increase U.S. agricultural exports to more than $195 million.

Relative to America's economy, budget cuts and other financial woes also are political hot buttons several congressmen and farmers will discuss during the D.C. trip, with a special focus on cuts to ag subsidies.

"The whole thing is driven by the deficit," said Carlisle. "They're going to be looking to find money to fund programs that isn't going to be there. Unfortunately, this deficit is really going to challenge us to pass the 2012 Farm Bill."

Those who enjoyed the Senate Luncheon last year will again have the opportunity to meet with U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala) at the Hart Senate Building. Small groups of farmers will meet with members of Congress and their staff on specific commodity- related issues throughout the afternoon. "It's a great opportunity for our members to have a voice and talk to their representatives," said Carlisle.

Federation members on the trip will also attend a congressional reception for lawmakers and their staff featuring barbecue provided by L.O. Bishop, president of the Colbert County Farmers Federation.

Farmers from each of Alabama's seven congressional districts will meet with their respective U.S. representatives during breakfast meetings while in Washington. These small, informal meetings allow farmers the ability to talk one-on-one with their congressmen about how actions in Washington affect their families back home, as well as environmental issues; agricultural labor; estate and capital gains taxes; animal welfare; NRCS programs; and the Farm Bill, which will likely be addressed closer to 2012 than originally anticipated.

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