Administration's Farm Bill proposal

Wes Speaks

I'm pleased to be with you today to discuss the Administration's Farm Bill proposal and what we at the Farmers Union think should happen in the next farm bill.

First of all, I want to talk about one of the most important things that we are dealing with - not only in agriculture but as a nation who is currently dependent upon some of the most dangerous regions of the world. I want to talk about energy.

We were disappointed in the President's renewable fuels policy. We don't think his farm bill proposal matched the renewable rhetoric that we heard from the President in his State of the Union address. (The budget numbers are low - 2-4 billion for all renewables in the next farm bill.)

Rural Americans have always stepped up to the plate to take on challenges. We have such a challenge now with renewable energy. We need to take seriously the need to become energy independent. We can't just talk about it or weaken our resolve when gas prices are more reasonable.

We need an 'Apollo' initiative on energy and American's farmers and rural residents are the ones to help us get there. With a strong and concerted effort we can become energy independent by using fuels from the farm.

Ethanol, biodiesel and wind can make our nation less reliant on some of the most dangerous regions of the world; help protect the environment by using more planet-healthy fuels grown in rural areas; and reinvigorate small cities and towns.

Simply put, the Administration's policy on energy leaves us wanting much more in a renewables policy proposal.

On the Title One programs - the commodity programs - the Administration wants to shift the safety net more to direct de-coupled payments - that is - payments that have no ties to what producers actually plant.

The current farm bill, by and large, has worked. The bill primarily relies on a safety net that provides support when prices are low - the counter cyclical provisions of the safety net that comprise three fourths of the current safety net.

Shifting to a system that pays regardless of price doesn't make sense to us. In addition, the current farm bill has worked. It actually saved roughly $18 billion. That is a model of the type of farm bill we want to see in the future.

NFU was also disappointed that the Bush Administration neglected to chart a way forward on permanent disaster assistance. This Administration turns a blind eye toward real assistance for people who are barely hanging on due to natural disasters. We need permanent disaster assistance in the next farm bill and we were disappointed that there was no mention of this in their proposal.

There was also no mention of a competition title to the new farm bill. We need to address banning unfair and anticompetitive practices that make it difficult if not impossible for everyday farmers - and particularly ranchers - to simply compete and make ends meet.

There was no mention of providing U.S. producers with marketing tools - like the simple ability to label their products as "produced in the USA." The fastest growing segment of the food industry is source-verified, direct-from the-farm foods.

Country of origin labeling (COOL) requirements should be implemented to inform consumers and allow a competitive advantage to U.S. foods, which can result in U.S. farmers and ranchers capturing more of the differentiated food value and result in better farm and rural incomes.

I also want to mention the Administration's policy proposals on conservation. The Conservation Security Program that was passed in 2002 should be the flagship conservation program for the future. The Administration has given only tepid support to the CSP program ($50 million a year increase). We need to do better.

NFU is pleased that the Administration has put forward a detailed proposal. You know the Administration was really MIA on the last farm bill and did not provide a detailed proposal. So, even thought we have some pretty major concern about what they suggest, we still are pleased that they will be a participant in the process and look forward to working with them.

Finally, I want to spend some time talking about research. A robust agricultural research component to the 2007 Farm Bill is critical to the future of not only agriculture and rural communities, but also to the U.S. and our national security.

We have a "once in a generation" opportunity to make huge strides in the 2007 Farm Bill with regard to energy, specifically cellulosic, biodiesel, and wind.

We need to ensure that there is community ownership and interest in wind development. This will come through additional research into more efficiently harnessing energy from wind and into more efficient means of developing wind farms; and

While ethanol produced from corn has been a significant step forward in cleaner and more profitable production of energy, it is important that research into cellulosic ethanol be a major priority so as to provide an additional source of profitability for rural America and to provide additional clean-burning fuels for consumers across the nation and the world.

There is a public interest in furthering clean and efficient fuels. There is a public interest in ensuring that our seed varieties do the most good for the world. There is a public interest m ensuring that we do all we can to avert global climate change that can have enormous negative impacts on not only agriculture, but on the way all of us live.

Research is the key to making progress on these important matters and the National Farmers Union will be there with others urging that we do all we can.

You know, when I think about the farm bill and I think about the important work that we all do, I can't help but think that it all comes down to one issue. Priorities. It all comes down to priorities.

We spend less than one half of one percent on the commodity programs of the farm bill, yet farmers continue to be the brunt of criticism. Farmers and ranchers provide the safest most reliable food in the world.

We look forward to doing much better. I look forward to doing much better. America's farmers, ranchers, rural residents and the communities in which they live need all of us.

I look forward to working together. Thank you for listening and thank you for the invitation to be with you today.

Texas Farmers Union, P.O. Box 738, Sweetwater, Tx 79556