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
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
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.