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Farm groups press for ag legislation now

Sept. 13, 2012 | 0 comments

A group of about 40 farm groups planned a rally Sept. 12 in Washington, DC, to highlight the importance of getting a Farm Bill done now in the waning days of the fall legislative session.

If it doesn't get done now, the only remaining chance to secure a five-year program covering the nation's farm and food programs would be in the "lame duck" session after the fall elections, when presumably some of the members of Congress voting on the bill would be in their last weeks in office.

It would also mean that some of the programs for farmers would expire at the end of September.

The nation's two largest farm groups - National Farmers Union and American Farm Bureau have been joined by the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and others to emphasize to lawmakers the importance of getting farm legislation done soon; so farmers will know how to plan for next spring.

The coalition, called "Farm Bill Now," includes associations and coalitions representing commodity crops, livestock, specialty and minor crops, energy and bio-based product groups, farm cooperatives and financial groups.

"National Milk stands united with these other groups - each of which has strong and distinct policy priorities - yet all of whom are committed to passing a new, comprehensive bill this year," said Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of NMPF.

"Dairy farmers have been working for three years on developing a new and better safety net, and we need a new Farm Bill to bring that effort to fruition."

On Wednesday morning, Sept. 12, the groups planned to gather on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol alongside members from the Senate and House of Representatives, as well as leaders from other major farm and commodity groups, rural development, livestock, conservation, hunger, consumer and energy organizations to encourage Congress to pass the bill before programs expire.

Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union (NFU) president and Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) president, have been announced as the masters of ceremony for the "Farm Bill Now" rally.

"I'm very pleased to stand beside President Stallman as we represent all rural Americans at this critical time," said Johnson. "With only eight days remaining on the legislative calendar before the current farm bill's expiration, the rally aims to send a strong, unified message to Congress that they must act, and they must act now on the 2012 Farm Bill to ensure the well-being and livelihood of all Americans who benefit from this important piece of legislation."

"We appreciate all of the work done to date by Congress and look forward to working with the House to get a Farm Bill passed and into conference as soon as possible," said Stallman.

"In light of the drought, it is imperative for America's farmers that a Farm Bill is passed this year," Stallman added.

The Senate passed its version of the legislation first, back in June, and in the House, a version was hammered out and approved in the House Agriculture Committee on a bi-partisan vote, but has been stalled in the lower house since that time.

Organizers said the rally was planned in an effort to raise public awareness of the need for Congress to pass a new, comprehensive, five-year Farm Bill before current farm programs expire on Sept. 30.

The rally coincided with a legislative fly-in to Washington, for 200 Farmers Union members from all over the country.

During a briefing from U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Monday morning (Sept. 10) those farmers heard about the urgency for getting a new Farm Bill done soon.

In his remarks to Farmers Union members, Vilsack urged Congress to act quickly in bringing a comprehensive, five-year bill to the U.S. House of Representatives floor and pass it into law this month.

Johnson thanked Vilsack for the work he has done to argue for getting the legislation done now and encouraged his members to beat the drum for a Farm Bill now in their meetings with lawmakers.

Vilsack told the Farmers Union members that there is "no more important piece of legislation that any member of Congress can work on for rural America, for farmers, producers and ranchers than passage of a Farm Bill this month."

Kozak, from NMPF, said that the coalition effort will call attention to the fact that the Farm Bill is important to more Americans than just those working in agriculture.

"Calling the Farm Bill the 'Farm Bill' suggests its impact is limited only to farms and to the rural areas to which they are so closely tied. It's really a jobs bill, a food bill, a conservation bill, a research bill, an energy bill, and a trade bill.

"In other words, it's a bill that affects every American," he said.

Kozak said the measure, which is typically renewed every five years with policy modifications, has a broad impact on the U.S. economy as well as its citizens.

"It provides healthy foods to millions of schoolchildren and nutritious options to families in need. It develops and expands trade with valuable foreign markets.

"By reducing spending significantly compared to prior farm bills, the proposals pending right now in Congress address the need to get our nation's fiscal house in order," Kozak said.

Johnson agreed. "The sheer magnitude of the diversified support for this rally is a testament that, while we may all have wide-ranging and oftentimes divergent policy priorities, our primary policy at this critical moment in time is to see a complete, five-year farm bill passed into law by the end of September," he said.

"I'm hopeful that our unified voice gets heard by Congress loudly and clearly at Wednesday's rally," he said on Tuesday.

The "Farm Bill Now" coalition has also launched an interactive web portal at FarmBillNow.com," target="_blank">www.FarmBillNow.com, through which visitors can connect to their members of Congress and show their support for a new five-year Farm Bill.

Using messages to Congress via social media, event locations and times, and an online petition, FarmBillNow.com gives farmers and consumers another resource to make their voices heard, telling Congress that the Farm Bill needs to be completed before the current farm and food law expires at the end of September.

The "Farm Bill Now" rally, was scheduled to take place at Union Square in front of the Capitol Reflecting Pond.

Legislative members slated to speak at the rally included Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, chairwoman of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee; Sen. Jerry Moran, R-KS; Rep. Collin Peterson, D-MN, ranking member of the Committee on Agriculture; and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-SD.

Organizers said the event has been endorsed by more than 80 organizations representing a broad range of associations and coalitions representing commodity crops, livestock, dairy, specialty crops, state and local governments, minor crops, energy and bio-based product groups, farm cooperatives and financial groups.

Organizational speakers were scheduled to include Fred Yoder, representative of 25x'25; Daren Coppock, president and CEO of Agricultural Retailers Association; Ambassador Tony P. Hall, executive director of Alliance to End Hunger; Bob Stallman, president of American Farm Bureau Federation; Jon Scholl, president of American Farmland Trust; Steve Wellman, president of American Soybean Association; Gene Schmidt, president of National Association of Conservation Districts; Bing Von Bergen, first vice president of National Association of Wheat Growers; an elected county official representing National Association of Counties; Sally Greenberg, executive director of National Consumers League; Garry Niemeyer, president of National Corn Growers Association; Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union; Ken Nobis, president of Michigan Milk Producers Association; Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy.

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