National Cooperative Business Association President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Hazen lauded the farm bill objectives outlined earlier by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-IA and Ranking Member Richard Lugar, R-IN that seek to improve opportunities for equity investment and cooperative development in rural America.

"By including the goal of making more investment capital available in rural areas among their farm bill objectives, Senators Harkin and Lugar have recognized one of the biggest obstacles to rural economic growth--often lack the personal wealth to generate the equity they need to attract debt financing. Years of low farm prices only have made that situation worse."

NCBA has organized a coalition effort to support inclusion of legislation in the farm bill that would create a new private-public fund that would make more equity capital available to member-owned cooperatives and other businesses in rural America. The bipartisan legislation, the National Rural Cooperative and Business Equity Fund Act, was introduced in the 106th Congress by Senators Harkin and Craig, R-ID, and is supported by a broad range of organizations representing rural electric and telephone cooperatives, farmers and private and cooperative lenders. The act creates a framework for a private corporation to manage an Equity Fund designed to invest in rural businesses and provides incentives to attract private investment to the fund.

Hazen said that the committee leaders' objectives for rural capital investment and lending are consistent with the provisions of the proposed Equity Fund Act. "We applaud Senators Harkin and Lugar for their leadership in helping rural communities overcome the economic challenges. We look forward to working with them to include the Equity Fund Act in the upcoming farm bill," Hazen said.

Hazen lauded another of the committee leaders' farm bill objectives: "To facilitate the creation and expansion of cooperatives and other farmer-owned and locally owned enterprises to add value to farm commodities--and increase farm and rural income." NCBA is seeking improvements in the Rural Cooperative Development Grants Program and other programs that provide technical assistance and resources to those seeking to create viable new cooperatives.

NCBA is a Washington, DC-based national membership association representing cooperatives across all industries, including agriculture, childcare, credit unions, energy, food retail and distribution, housing, insurance and many others.

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