With the House Agriculture Committee's work completed on its farm bill, and the Senate's version still making committee rounds, American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said, it will take a "concerted, cooperative effort" to put agriculture on a path toward prosperity.
During a national symposium, at the University of Georgia, on the future of agriculture, Stallman said, while the Senate bill is still taking shape, AFBF believes the House Agriculture Committee's farm bill proposal is "a solid step forward."
He said the House bill builds on previous programs and it recognizes that "more farm and ranch families need attention." One drawback, though, is that the House measure does not provide sufficient support in the near term.
While the U.S. Department of Agriculture's most recent projections are beginning to hint at an upturn in the agricultural economy, Stallman said lingering effects of "depressed commodity prices, higher input costs, tougher and sometimes unfair global competition and discriminatory regulatory costs" are punishing America's farm and ranch families.
In spite of three years of economic turmoil, when government payments have provided "a very significant portion of farm income," Stallman said Farm Bureau's farm program stance is based on "our vision of a profitable agriculture strengthened by growing markets, increasing value-added efforts and providing voluntary incentive-based conservation programs."
"We want to capture more of our income from the market," he said. "We are urging members of Congress to more adequately fund traditional farm program activities and encourage some new projects that will build demand for and usage of America's agricultural bounty."
Stallman reviewed Farm Bureau's policy goals for the farm bill, which include: Continuing and expanding flexibility contract payments; re-balancing loan rates and creating a counter-cyclical income support program; extending the dairy price support program; and modifying the sugar program to help adjust supply to more manageable levels.
Stallman emphasized that Farm Bureau also is asking Congress to develop, with farmer input, "a bold, new thrust to encourage and reward farmers and ranchers for increasing their stewardship practices."
He outlined Farm Bureau's "Building Agricultural Markets" campaign under way during the August Congressional recess. Securing trade promotion authority (TPA) for the President leads the three-pronged campaign, which also includes encouraging USDA to use funds approved for U.S. export programs and pushing for expanded demand for ethanol and other domestically produced, renewable fuels.
U.S. trade negotiators need TPA, so they can "go back and fix problems with past agreements, as well as go forward to open markets for more of our agricultural products," according to Stallman. Despite its importance, he said there is confusion regarding TPA.
"Trade promotion authority only is about process, not content," Stallman said. "It will be our responsibility to keep looking over the shoulders of our trade negotiators to be sure the content of future trade agreements meets the needs of American agriculture. If not, then we will stand up and tell our elected officials that the trade agreement should not be ratified."
Stallman said the "Building Agricultural Markets" campaign, coupled with the continued effort to craft a farm program that "encourages, rather than hinders, entrepreneurial effort" will lead to improved net income for farmers and ranchers.
In addition, he stressed the need for cooperation during the farm bill process.
"Despite the economic woes, American agriculture is strong," Stallman said. "Working together, we can make it stronger. We can build a farm program that restores profits to our various commodities, that encourages and rewards environmental stewardship and offers hope and prosperity to America's farm and ranch families.