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Farm Bureau delegates support extension of farm bill

American Farm Bureau Federation delegates are asking Congress to extend the provisions of the 2002 farm bill until a new World Trade Organization agreement is reached that “increases foreign market access for U.S. farmers and ranchers.”

Delegates attending the AFBF’s annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., today said they do not want to change U.S. farm programs until the current Doha Round of WTO negotiations is completed. And they said they wanted that agreement to provide greater market access to U.S. farm products.

“Our members continue to say they are willing to negotiate about lower domestic support payments if, in exchange, they can secure increased opportunities to sell their products overseas,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman.

“However, as this vote shows, they are not willing to unilaterally disarm. Any revamping of the farm safety net must be done in concert with a WTO agreement that reduces tariffs and grants market access, increases tariff rate quotas, reduces trade-distorting domestic supports and eliminates export subsidies.”

The vote appears to put Farm Bureau at odds with the Bush administration, which lobbied congressional leaders to remove language extending the provisions of the current farm bill from budget reconciliation legislation that passed the House and Senate just before Christmas.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns addressed the AFBF annual meeting on Monday. He did not comment on the farm bill debate other than to say that he intends to be “actively engaged” in the discussion of the next bill.

AFBF also reaffirmed its opposition to farm payment limits, another area in which the administration has proposed significant changes.

The delegates voted to approve policy language that says the 2002 farm bill “was carefully crafted to provide a safety net to farmers and ranchers while also supporting the rural economy. The current farm bill strengthens our economy by encouraging more than $62 billion of agricultural exports in 2004.”

Farm Bureau leaders said the Doha Round of WTO negotiations, which have been under way for four years, may not be concluded successfully before 2007, which is also the year the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 is scheduled to expire.

“The results of the negotiations, in particular the results on domestic support commitments, must be known and taken into account as farm programs are developed for the future,” according to its policy language. “Any attempt to modify the current farm bill will place U.S. farmers and ranchers at a serious competitive disadvantage.

“If changes in the farm bill are made now, they would presumably be offered as U.S. commitments in the trade negotiations. However, this approach modifies U.S. programs without full knowledge of the obligations the United States would be expected to assume as part of an overall WTO trade agreement.”

The language said the rewriting the current law would also make changes “without knowing what kind of concessions we are going to receive from our trading partners, particularly in the area of market access.”

Stallman said AFBF believes the U.S. Trade Representative should negotiate a WTO agreement that accomplishes its objectives with respect to harmonization of domestic support and then modify domestic programs, if necessary.

“This approach provides U.S. negotiators a stronger negotiating position and avoids undertaking reforms that may not help us achieve our objectives in the negotiations,” he noted. “It is imperative that the negotiations on domestic support be clearly defined before we draft a new farm bill or accept significant budget reductions.”

Farm Bureau delegates also supported creation of “an energy escalator clause” in farm policy due to the impact of higher fuel and fertilizer costs are having on farm profitability.

“Farmers are feeling the pain of rising input costs, including energy prices, and fertilizer prices that have tripled in just the last few years,” said Stallman. “They are clearly looking for relief from costs pressures, which they cannot pass along to their customers.”

Delegates voted to support the “25 by 25” vision stating that agriculture, by 2025, will produce 25 percent of the nation’s energy supply while continuing to produce abundant, safe and affordable food and fiber. They also urged Congress and the administration to enact policies to increase the domestic fuel supply by increasing refining capacity and authorizing development of energy resources in the Outer Continental Shelf and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

On animal identification, the delegates voted to support a mandatory animal ID program.

“The delegates believe that the animal ID system will eventually have to be mandatory to be successful, help protect animal health and aid the quick trace-back of potentially infected animals in the event of a disease outbreak,” Stallman said. “The system is vital to the livestock industry and consumer confidence.”

Reflecting the increased concern about eminent domain since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that state and local governments could take property from private landowners for economic development purposes, the delegates strengthened policy that said eminent domain should not be used to take property for any private use.

“Farmland is particularly vulnerable to government seizure because of the Supreme Court ruling,” Stallman explained, “because it generates less tax revenue than developed land. Our members are very concerned about this, and it was no surprise that they voted to strengthen farmers’ and ranchers’ property ownership rights.”

The delegates re-elected Stallman, a cattle and rice producer from Columbus, Texas, to a fourth two-year term as president, and re-elected Steve Appel, a wheat and barley producer from Dusty, Wash., as vice president.

In addition, several state presidents were newly elected to the AFBF board of directors: Leland Hogan, Utah; Michael White, New Mexico; Scott VanderWal, South Dakota; Marshall Coyle, Kentucky; Lacy Upchurch, Tennessee; and Jerry Newby, Alabama.

Re-elected to the board were:

Midwest Region – Steve Baccus, Kansas; Charles Kruse, Missouri; and Philip Nelson, Illinois.

Southern Region – Bruce Hiatt, Virginia; Carl Loop, Florida; Stanley Reed, Arkansas; David Waide, Mississippi; and David Winkles, South Carolina.

Northeast Region – John Lincoln, New York, and Earl “Buddy” Hance, Maryland.

Western Region – Barry Bushue, Oregon.

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