Farm bill will have local impact
Between soaring gas prices, the war in Iraq and the most hotly contested presidential primary in recent memory, the farm bill is likely to be greeted with a collective yawn by anyone who’s not a farmer.
Passage of the bill, however, could have a major impact on local industry and farmers.
“For the first time, not only does the 2008 Farm Bill have safety nets for traditional commodities such as corn, wheat, soy beans, as well as dairy, but it also has the funding of programs for specialty crops, the fruit and vegetable industry,” said Bob Hokanson, national affairs coordinator with the New York State Farm Bureau. “We want to maintain safety nets, but we advocate strongly for non-traditional programs that would benefit specialty crop growers.”
Included in the latest version of the farm bill would be $1.6 billion over five years for specialty crops, including grapes and apples.
Lawmakers Friday reached a tentative agreement on the farm bill that spans five years and costs roughly $280 billion.
Hokanson said the newest version of the farm bill would not create price supports for specialty crops like the ones that exist for commodity crops such as corn, soy beans, wheat and dairy.
Instead, it would pump money into research, marketing and value-added initiatives, Hokanson said.
Paul Thomas, executive director of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, said government investments are critical to maintaining competitiveness.
“The farm bill would continue to give the New York wine industry the tools it needs to prosper, especially on an international scale where you see countries like Chile and Australia pouring enormous resources into the research and development of their industries,” Thomas said. “For us to stay competitive on an international level, this type of legislation continues to be invaluable and critical.”
A one-week extension of the 2002 Farm Bill was passed Friday and approved by President Bush.
U.S. Rep. John R. “Randy” Kuhl Jr. said last week the House and Senate were initially more than $20 billion apart.
Bush has indicated he is opposed to most of the funding mechanisms proposed by Congress.
“With record farm income, now is not the time for Congress to ask other sectors of the economy to pay higher taxes in order to increase the size of government,” Bush said in a press release. “The proposal would increase spending by at least $16 billion, masked in part by budgetary gimmicks and funded in part by additional tax revenues. These tax revenue provisions are unacceptable.”
Eric Massa, Democratic candidate for the 29th Congressional District, said that the Farm Bill has become the victim of special interests.
“Unfortunately, just like the energy bill, corporate special interests have taken over the Farm Bill,” Massa said. “That’s why Archers Daniels Midland and Agricorps drive where the money goes and the family farms end up with nothing.”
Both Kuhl and Hokanson said they were confident Congress would find a compromise that would preserve the money for specialty crops.