From the tractor
By Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
The 2007 farm bill is on a lot of people's minds today as Congress is set to begin reviewing President Bush's proposal that was released in late January.
We were fortunate to have U.S. Agriculture Undersecretary Thomas Dorr speak on the farm bill at our Agricultural Development Forum just a day after the proposal was released. The timing couldn't have been better. He highlighted some of the goals and areas of focus of the administration's proposal. In addition, we had the presidents of the American Farm Bureau and The National Grange, as well as former Texas congressman and agricultural advocate Charles Stenholm, weigh in on challenges with the farm bill.
Some key points I gleaned from Undersecretary Dorr's presentation:
Money for programs will be tight;
There will be a wider range of groups interested in farm bill policies than ever before, each with its own agenda;
Money would be earmarked for beginning, young and disadvantaged farmers;
More focus on funding conservation programs to avoid international trade issues involving subsidies;
A move to increase funding for specialty-crop programs;
Focus resources on developing alternative, renewable energy.
I was pleased by the proposal to target more funding to young and beginning farmers. One of the things I talk about frequently with groups I meet is the need to get more young people interested in careers in agriculture.
Undersecretary Dorr summed up the need to help young and beginning farmers the best. "I'm 60 and when I go to farm meetings in my area, I'm one of the youngest at the meetings. We've got a problem with that," Dorr said.
As I have said on many occasions, trends show that we have an aging farming population, fewer young people are pursuing careers in agriculture and the demand for food is expected to increase significantly in the next 25 years. All those point to a potential crisis in agriculture in the future if we do not slow or reverse some of these trends. Directing money toward young farmers is a step in the right direction.
As most of our guest speakers mentioned, more and more non-agricultural groups are interested in the farm bill. Congressman Stenholm noted that there were just three main groups involved in the first farm bill he voted on more than 20 years ago. This bill will involve 250 individual organizations. Conservation groups, energy groups, farm groups and more will seek to secure spending and policies favorable to their objectives.
Stenholm and American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman also said education of lawmakers will be important because of a significant number of changes on the agriculture committees. In fact, both estimated that only about a third of the current members had served during the development of the 2002 farm bill.
Education remains a critical need both nationally and locally, as we have become a more urban nation with less connection to the farm. We have to be the ones sounding the horn on agricultural issues if we want to see results.
Staff members from North Carolina's congressional delegation also reminded forum participants about the importance of contacting their legislators and voicing their opinions about farm policy and farm bill details. They assured us it does matter and it is listened to.
There remains a lot of work to do to craft a final farm bill. We will be watching these proceedings closely and offering input as needed. Legislators will be hearing from many groups on these issues and it is important agriculture's voice is heard.
As congressman Stenholm said at the forum, "There are more of us than them." We need to make sure we do our part to address agricultural issues so they do not get pushed aside in the discussions.