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Farm bill themes ring clear

Key themes certain to ring clear in the 2007 farm bill will be policies that are equitable, predictable, and beyond challenge, according to Lloyd Day, administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

Speaking to almond growers during the 34th annual Almond Industry Conference in Modesto, Calif., in December, Day said the three themes were heard loud and clear during the 52 USDA-sponsored farm bill listening sessions held across the nation in 2006 including in California’s Central Valley and in Phoenix, Ariz. The USDA also received 4,000 written comments.

“Sec. Johanns said many producers were concerned about inequities in current farm subsidy programs,” Day noted. “Specialty crops which receive no subsidies whatsoever make up more farm income than all the commodities which receive all of the subsidies,” he noted.

On the predictability issue, agricultural producers should know what to expect from the federal government to assist producers in making the best, well-informed decisions, he said. Farmers and ranchers should know the type of government assistance available, how much assistance is available, and for what length of time.

On the issue of beyond challenge, Day focused on U.S. agricultural trade in the world market, and the necessity to develop policies that will unlikely face challenge by the 149 member-countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which the U.S. is a member.

“We need to reduce possible (unfair U.S. trade) occurrences,” Day stated. “Brazil challenged our cotton program and won. Uruguay is targeting rice, and Canada for some reason is targeting corn but they have withdrawn a portion of it.”

Effective 21st century U.S. farm policy should be carefully crafted at home in the ’07 farm law. Having U.S. farm policy disputed on the world stage at the WTO level is an unstable platform.

“It is plausible as we craft policies to consider if the policies may be vulnerable to such challenges and how that will affect our trading relationships across the agricultural sector,” Day emphasized. “We don’t want our policies to provoke disputes on a world stage. However I will assure you if we are challenged we will defend them aggressively.”

He opposes trading one commodity for another, for example jeopardizing the success of almonds in the international marketplace to protect the policy of another crop.

Day has Sacramento, Calif., roots. He served as the deputy secretary of the California Department of Commerce and four years with the Foreign Agricultural Service. In 2005 Day was tapped for the AMS’ top post.

Day reiterated President Bush’s comments from the State of the Union address, “If there are open markets and a level playing field, no one can out produce or out compete the American farmer.”

According to Day, President Bush has promised the ’07 farm law will achieve six goals: open access to global markets for U.S. farmers and ranchers; ensure that future generations have the opportunity to enter agriculture despite high land values; cooperative conservation that encourages good stewardship of lands and habitats; cutting edge agricultural products and research; a good quality of life in rural America; and a focus on agriculturally-related health and safety issues.

Compliments industry

Day complimented the almond industry for developing the almond pasteurization action plan to deal a death knoll to any future chance of Salmonella in almonds.

“I compliment your industry. You have invested money in research and then worked together to solve a serious problem,” Day said. “I think we finally have it. It’s workable and it’s proactive and it takes major steps to reduce the incidents of Salmonella. This rule has been a long time coming yet sufficient time was needed to hear from growers, handlers, the manufacturing industry, and the international players.”

Yet he stopped short of giving the USDA’s stamp of approval to the pasteurization plan published in the Dec. 6 Federal Register.

Day called for further involvement by the almond industry to solve other problems impacting the specialty crop industry.

“Whatever we can do to make specialty crops more competitive, we beg for your input about it,” he said.

Exports account for about two-thirds of U.S. almond production with 60 percent going to Western Europe primarily Spain, Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and 20 percent to Asian markets, Day noted.

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