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Senators say enough, blast national media on farm bill coverage

Some of the non-stop criticism of farmers and farm programs by media outlets in recent years might be a little easier to take if the tone wasn't so condescending.

For five years, editorial writers have been bashing the farm bill and farmers, claiming they waste taxpayer dollars, lead to the impoverishment of African farmers, make “wealthy” farmers wealthier, etc., etc.

Nowhere do they talk about the risk farmers take every time they plant a crop, the investments many growers put into conservation and the number of actions by their own government that have sent some into bankruptcy.

One senator decided to “call” the media on the latest barrage of editorial criticism that erupted as the Senate resumed its debate on the farm bill.

“Some of the East Coast media just don't get it,” said North Dakota's Kent Conrad. “They continue to look down their noses at rural America. Enough is enough. This farm bill is critically important to people all across America.”

Conrad responded to claims the farm bill would hike federal spending in commodity programs. Instead, the Senate farm bill cuts $4.2 billion from commodities and $3.7 billion from crop insurance, according to Congressional Budget Office scoring.

“This is a bill that makes major investments in the food and energy security of our nation without adding 1 cent to our nation's deficit,” he said. “While we've increased spending on nutrition, conservation and energy programs, we have offset the additional costs.”

Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the committee's ranking Republican, has also had enough of the media criticism. Chambliss went to the Senate floor to denounce a Nov. 7 Washington Post editorial.

The Post claimed U.S. cotton acreage has increased because of U.S. subsidies, when the acreage, in fact, decreased by 39 percent following passage of the 2002 farm bill. Cotton acreage in China and Brazil, which has brought a WTO complaint about the U.S. program, has risen by 50 percent.

“I also want to set the record straight on one issue that is simply wrong,” he said. “This editorial takes on the cotton program in the 2002 farm bill and says it has a very negative effect on cotton farmers in West Africa.”

Numerous independent analyses, including one conducted by the Cotton Economics Research Institute at Texas Tech University, show only minimal cotton price impacts can be linked to the U.S. cotton program on world prices, he noted.

Chambliss, who helped negotiate the farm bill in the Senate, said the editorial writer missed the point on the reforms the version being considered by the Senate would bring to the cotton program.

He also rejected the Post claim the cotton program only benefits 20,000 American cotton producers. Farms and businesses directly involved in the production, distribution and processing of cotton employ more that 230,000 people and result in direct business revenues of more that $27 billion. Those eventually translate to $120 billion in economic activity overall. Not bad for a bunch of “hayseeds.”

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