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Opening Statement of Chairman Tom Harkin at the First Mark-up of the Senate Farm Bill

October 31, 2001

Opening Statement of Chairman Tom Harkin at the First Mark-up of the Senate Farm Bill

"Welcome to the first mark up of the Senate Farm Bill. Today we will move to the next phase of Farm Bill preparation and mark up the Credit Title to the bill. As you know we were prepared to do this mark up just two weeks ago, but the circumstances in the intervening time delayed that effort. In spite of the special challenges that we all face this fall, I intend to continue to move ahead on the Farm Bill. We will keep members informed and continue to keep the lines of dialogue open as we move ahead. I believe we should take full advantage of the time remaining this session and move forward to the best of our ability.

"Today we are focussed on the Credit Title and on two other items of business. When a quorum is present, the Committee will consider approval of subcommittee assignments, and consider and report out S.1519, a bill to provide credit relief to farmers who were activated as reservists because of the events on September 11. We will mark up and adopt, but not report out, the Credit Title.

"The Credit Title incorporates numerous changes suggested by members and their staffs. In crafting this title, we have also worked with the Department of Agriculture. I believe that with this bipartisan effort, we have drafted a Title that will serve our agricultural sector well in the future. The main theme of the Title is to help beginning farmers and ranchers gain greater access to federal farm lending programs and, therefore, give them a leg up in getting into farming. We all know that young farmers find it especially difficult to break in to the capital-intensive business of farming. The average age of farmers keeps edging upward and therefore we must do what we can to bring new and beginning farmers into agriculture.

"Among other things, this agreed-upon chairman's mark of the Credit Title will require the USDA to guarantee a greater amount of certain kinds of lending for beginning farmers. The mark makes the down payment loan program more accessible to beginning farmers by increasing the USDA loan amount to from 30 to 40 percent and increasing the loan term from 10 to 20 years. This program is used by beginning farmers to buy their farm. The title also initiates a USDA pilot program to guarantee loans for contract land sales directly from current operators to beginning farmers and ranchers, thus providing another link between retiring farmers who want to sell their land on contract to beginning farmers.

"The title also improves other agricultural credit programs by making permanent the interest rate reduction program which provides interest rate assistance to qualified farmers. The title will ease the paperwork requirements for many borrowers by increasing the threshold for low-documentation guaranteed farm ownership and operating loan applications from $50,000 to 100,000. Finally, the title will make some administrative fixes to the Farm Credit System, such as allowing them to finance warehouses overseas that store American grain.

"I would invite other members to make comments at this time beginning with Senator Lugar. But first let me thank him and his staff for their assistance and cooperation in drafting a Credit Title that has broad support from this Committee and will serve to help meet the credit needs of our farmers and ranchers in the future."