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2009 better opportunity to write good farm bill?

U.S. farmers might be better served if Congress puts off enacting new farm legislation until 2009, extending the current program in the interim.

“By 2009, a new president will be in the White House,” says Dennis Wiese, with Dennis Wiese and Associates, a South Dakota company that works in government relations, public policy and business development.

Wiese, addressing the annual Southern Peanut Growers Conference recently in Panama City, Florida, said the next administration could be more willing to implement a good farm program.

“President Bush was not committed to the 2002 legislation,” Wiese said. “If the Democrats win (the next presidential election) it will be interesting to see if the president will take ownership of the farm bill.”

He said President Clinton signed the Freedom to Farm Act in 1996 then said the legislation “would have to be reopened.”

Wiese said the 1996 law was a disaster for agriculture. “Peanut growers were concerned, as were other agriculture organizations. It cost billions of dollars in ad hoc legislation later.”

The 2002 law, on the other hand, “allowed direct payments and assistance for value-added products. It helps in time of need and reduces government costs when prices are good.

“Farmers may not be proud of receiving direct payments, but disasters happen, such as the Southeast drought this year, and we have to find a way to help pay for disasters.”

Wiese says “paygo” (a system supported by conservative Democrats and others that demands programs be paid for before being legislated) “is not an easy concept.”

Wiese said farm families are an important part of the U.S. economy and deserve to be recognized as such.

Writing a new farm bill that addresses the diverse needs of agriculture poses serious challenges, he says. More factions compete for fewer dollars than in 2002. Energy, conservation and fruits and vegetables all want more funds.

He expects to see serious debate on allocating funds and he also expects another battle over payment limitations. “We see a lot of support for payment limitations (at $250,000) in Iowa but I don’t know if it will win the day in the Senate.”

Energy and conservation could offer new income opportunities for agriculture in the next farm bill.

Wiese says renewable fuels have spurred local grain prices as refineries popped up across South Dakota. “That has changed the level of income for farmers,” he said.

He said farmers own many of the refineries so they receive benefits from increased grain prices and from the end product.

Conservation titles may take a bigger chunk of farm bill spending but also could offer new income, Wiese said. “Carbon credits may allow good land stewards to earn money from their efforts. Others may get credits for improved soil and water conservation practices.”

He said administrations rarely involve themselves in farm policy to the extent the Bush Administration has. “This administration has gotten involved.”

Wiese said the U.S. Congress has an opportunity to write legislation that helps agriculture. “But very few people understand growers or commodities,” he said. “(Farmers) need grassroots participation and inputs to teach legislators how important agriculture is.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about people.”

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