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Organization to be advocate for farmers, ranchers

The SouthWest Council of Agribusiness, a fledgling organization currently in a start-up phase, will be a regional advocate for farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

Long-term goals include a position as the go-to organization for political candidates and as a driving force in state, regional and national politics.

“We want to develop something similar to The Delta Council,” says Larry Combest, former U.S. Representative and Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. He says little of political import happens in the Delta without going through The Delta Council.

He spoke at the recent Texas Commodity Forum in Amarillo.

Combest, with his partner Tom Sell, is spearheading the organizational effort initiated by Plains Cotton Growers, Inc.

“PCG made the initial calls to area businesses,” Combest says. “Our immediate goal is continuation of the 2002 farm bill.”

The organization will include businesses and organizations from as far north as Kansas and as far south as the southern tip of Texas, west to New Mexico and east to Oklahoma. Combest says farmers, ranchers and rural communities in those areas face common challenges and share common bonds.

“Members include commodity groups, lenders (both farm credit and commercial banks), farm support industries, auto dealers and others,” Combest says.

He says Kansas wheat and cotton production meshes with Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma interests. “And we have Western Peanut Growers support and the South Texas Grain producers. We all have the same goals.”

The organization has more than 35 members. “I’ve been surprised at how fast it has grown,” Combest says.

“We can add a lot more members and the area represents as many as 10 U.S. Senators and many members of the House of Representatives. That expands our political base.

“We also face dynamic changes since the mid-term elections,” he says. “For a number of years we have talked about the need to extend the farm bill. That (message) fell on deaf ears. A lot said we could not accomplish (what we did) in the 2002 farm bill. They listed seven major obstacles and we just kept taking care of each one.

“A number of legislators want an extension but wonder if we can get it done,” Combest says. “We’ve got to keep at it. We can’t give up or we will not get it done.”

He says the naysayers are “the usual ones who don’t like a farm bill anyway because of concerns with the WTO or the budget. Today, WTO is not on the table and will not be a driving force in the next farm bill. And anything else proposed will cost more than the farm bill we have today.”

That’s the message Combest and other organizers of the SouthWest Council want to drive home. “We want the public and leaders to understand better the role agriculture plays and why they need good farm programs.”

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