August 25, 2006
Shaping the Next Farm Bill
Any picture of Iowa should include highly productive agriculture, liveable rural communities and beautiful land. That’s why what’s usually called “the farm bill” is so critically important to all of us Iowans. With the current farm bill expiring next year, I want Iowans to share their views with me as we work to write the next one.
We heard a lot of good recommendations last month in Ankeny at a field hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, of which I am the ranking Democratic member. It was an honor to be the committee’s chairman when we enacted the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, and I’m pleased it has gotten generally good reviews in rural America.
We now must look to the future with a bold and creative vision for agriculture and rural communities – one that builds new opportunities and promotes farm profitability, economic growth and jobs; that enhances our environment; and that improves the quality of life in rural areas and for all Americans.
One point comes through loudly and clearly: the current programs are doing far too little to help create opportunities for young people in agriculture and other businesses in local communities. We also need stronger federal laws to ensure fair, open and competitive markets for both independent producers and those with contract arrangements.
A key improvement we made in the 2002 farm bill was restoring a “countercyclical” element, which had been taken away in the Freedom to Farm bill. It makes sense to provide farmers more help when commodity prices are low while costing taxpayers less when prices are higher. Some witnesses at the Ankeny hearing called for a revenue-based income protection system, since payments pegged only to commodity prices don’t respond to lost crop production.
There is consistent, widespread support among farmers and all Iowans for greater federal investment in agricultural conservation – to enhance water and air quality, reduce soil erosion and increase wildlife habitat, particularly on land in production. Many of the hearing witnesses called for restoring the Conservation Security Program (CSP) – an innovative new system of conservation incentive payments – so it can operate as a fully-funded national program – just as it was enacted in the 2002 farm bill.
Witnesses at our Ankeny hearing also backed stronger support for farm-based renewable energy, rural economic development and food and agriculture research. In the 2002 farm bill, we adopted the first-ever energy title, which has boosted ethanol, biodiesel and wind power, along with biobased products and energy efficiency. We also dedicated funds to rural water and wastewater, broadband, and investment capital, adding value to farm commodities and research.
I’m proud of the progress we made in 2002, working in a bipartisan, cooperative fashion, to promote conservation, rural development, farm-based renewable energy and food and agriculture research. Inexplicably, it is these forward-looking, innovative initiatives that have suffered the most from later budget cutbacks by Congress and the administration. So we first have to repair this damage and then build upon the foundation we laid in 2002.
As work on a new farm bill continues, I hope you will share your ideas and comments with me. You can contact me by letter, telephone or by e-mail through my Senate website – http://harkin.senate.gov/. Your ideas and suggestions are tremendously valuable to me and they are always welcome.