Thursday, May 15, 2008


Harkin, Chairman of Agriculture Committee, Garners 81 Votes for Farm Bill Conference Agreement

Washington, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and of the Senate-House conference committee on the farm bill, today announced that with a vote of 81-15, the Senate had overwhelmingly approved the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, the farm bill conference agreement. The bill will now be sent to the White House.

Earlier this week, a coalition of more than 500 farm, conservation, nutrition, consumer and religious groups who sent a letter urging Congress to pass this bill. “The conference report makes significant farm policy reforms, protects the safety net for all of America's food producers, addresses important infrastructure needs for specialty crops, increases funding to feed our nation's poor, and enhances support for important conservation initiatives,” they wrote.

“Senate passage of the farm bill conference report on a strong, bipartisan basis demonstrates support for core farm bill initiatives – conservation, energy, nutrition and rural development – while continuing and strengthening farm income protection. This bill benefits every American, from our smallest towns to our biggest cities, urban and rural residents, farmers and non-farmers,” said Chairman Harkin.

“Today, I urge the President to look at this farm bill with fresh eyes and an objective mind. To date, he has focused on a handful of elements in this vast bill that he disagrees with. I urge him to look at the bill as a whole, and to see the many critical investments and reforms in this bill that have won support from both parties, from every region of the country, and from rural and urban members of Congress alike. If he does, I am confident he will conclude that this is a good bill that he can and should sign.”

The farm bill would benefit Iowa in the following ways:

Farm Bill: Building a Stronger Farm Safety Net

Ø The bill continues basic features of the 2002 bill, which farmers have thought worked well, and it gives producers a new option to participate in a state-level revenue protection system. The Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program offers producers better options for managing risk of both yield and price declines on their farms in today’s uncertain, rapidly changing farm environment.

Farm Bill: Making Investments in Conservation

With intensified crop production and millions of acres of fragile, erodible land coming out of the Conservation Reserve Program and put into production, the need for investments in conservation, especially conservation on working lands is even greater. The new bill will help farmers and ranchers with funds and technical assistance to conserve soil, improve water quality and boost wildlife on their land.

Ø The conservation title increases critical funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program – previously the Conservation Security Program – to grow vigorously. It will enroll over 417,000 acres in Iowa every year. At anticipated rates per acre, this will add an additional $11 million each year in conservation funding in Iowa – nearly $170 million in new conservation funding over the 5 years of the farm bill. Over the same time period, Iowa would receive over $166.5 million in funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Together these two programs – now streamlined and much better coordinated – will deliver technical and financial assistance to Iowa’s farmers – and clean water, less soil erosion, and abundant wildlife to the rest of our state.

Ø The package also maintains the conservation benefits of the Wetland Reserve Program – protecting and restoring wetlands that serve as a critical filter between land and water sources.

Farm Bill: Making Investments in America’s Energy Security

The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 included an energy title for the very first time. Yet since that time, dramatic new energy challenges have come into focus: oil prices have more than doubled, global warming is now beyond dispute, and we have grown even more dependent on oil imports from some of the most unstable regions of the world. The energy provisions in the farm bill will help unleash the potential of agriculture and rural communities to supply energy to our nation.

Ø A new incentive program will encourage farmers to grow biomass crops to supply energy production at biorefineries. This program will help farmers with establishment costs related to these crops and will cover costs related to lost income for crops they would have otherwise grown and the costs of harvesting, storing and transporting the crops to markets. It will also support loans to biomass processing plants.

Ø The energy title provides investments in farm-based energy that should assist projects in Iowa to get support from both USDA and the Iowa Power Fund. Provisions are also included that will give the University of Northern Iowa an opportunity to get increased support from USDA for biobased products testing.

Ø Section 9010 of the bill calls for USDA to establish 10 “Regional biomass crop experiments” at land grant universities. Iowa State University should have a good opportunity to become a site for one of those programs, especially with their New Century Farm initiative as a starting point to build on.

Farm Bill: Making Investments to Help Low-Income Iowans Put Food on the Table

The Food Stamp Program is our nation’s first line of defense against hunger, providing modest food assistance to 26 million people each year. Yet, current program rules have not been updated to respond to the challenges of low-income families and the asset limit has not been meaningfully adjusted in 30 years.

Ø The nutrition title strengthens our commitment to fighting hunger and promoting sound health and nutrition by updating archaic nutrition program rules, increasing Food Stamp benefit levels, and ending the erosion of benefits that has gone unchecked since 1996. These improvements to the Food Stamp Program will benefit many of the 225,000 Iowans who participate in the Food Stamp Program.

The farm bill is also an opportunity to invest in the health and nutrition of American children by expanding the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and invest in the health of the nation by expanding access to farmer’s markets and organic produce.

Ø The Senate farm bill expands the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program created by Harkin in the 2002 bill to reach nearly 45,000 Iowa elementary school children when fully implemented.

Ø The bill greatly increases funding, grants and research to growers of fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops. It supports farmer’s markets, direct-to-consumer sales and helps ease the transition to organic farming.

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