‘We wanted three things. … We actually got all three’

Virginia farmers and their counterparts nationwide began signing up late last month for programs that under the new federal farm policy will deliver some certainty for the 2008 crop year.

Congress overrode President Bush’s second veto of the farm bill, formally titled the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, in June. The legislation was finalized after more than one extension of the deadline.

"It’s been a long road to get to this point," said Mary Kay Thatcher, public policy director for the American Farm Bureau Federation. "There was a lot of interest in this farm bill by folks who were not as involved in the past. As a result, it took longer. But also as a result, this is probably the broadest farm bill we’ve ever had."

U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-6th, said the final version of the bill "addresses nutrition, renewable energy, and conservation, among others, while maintaining a safety net that allows for the continued production of an abundant, safe and affordable food supply. We’ve made great strides in reforming farm programs to reduce benefits going to the wealthiest of farmers and nonfarmers alike, require direct attribution of benefits, establish a revenue-based counter-cyclical program, strengthen beneficial interest, and strengthen the integrity of the crop insurance program in addition to several other significant reforms."

Goodlatte is the ranking Republican on the House Agriculture Committee and its immediate past chairman.

VFBF President Wayne F. Pryor said he is generally pleased with the final bill. Farm Bureau members shared their concerns about federal farm policy with Virginia’s elected officials.

"When we went into this process, (Farm Bureau) wanted three main things" Pryor noted: a continuation of direct and counter-cyclical price support payments and marketing loans; increased funding for conservation; and a disaster program. "We actually got all three of those."

About two-thirds of funds allocated by the farm bill pay for domestic nutrition programs such as food stamps and emergency assistance for food banks. Those programs received funding increases of $5 billion and $110 million, respectively.

In all, "it’s a pile of money," which can be deceptive to consumers, Pryor noted. "Farmers don’t get all that money.

Va. Farm Bureau identified priorities for new farm bill

When Virginia Farm Bureau Federation outlined producer members’ needs for the new federal farm policy to elected officials, there were three top priorities:

• continuation of direct and counter-cyclical price support payments and marketing loans;

• increased funding for conservation; and

• a permanent disaster assistance program.

All three have been included in the bill approved by Congress earlier this summer.

USDA computes direct and counter-cyclical payments using base acres and payment yields established for each participating farm. Eligible producers receive direct payments at rates established by statute regardless of market prices. Counter-cyclical payments vary depending on market prices and are issued only when the effective price for a commodity is below its target price.

Producers can fill out a 2008 Direct and Counter-cyclical Payment Program, or DCP, form online at www.fsa.usda.gov or at any USDA Service Center. Sign-ups will continue through Sept. 30.

Producers also can enroll in an optional Average Crop Revenue Election program that bases crop subsidies on a loss of income due to either lower prices or low yield, rather than the conventional counter-cyclical program.

Conservation funding was increased by $4.5 billion, with greater emphasis on working lands conservation rather than land retirement programs. That emphasis, "will certainly help producers do their best for soil conservation and water quality," said Tony Banks, VFBF assistant director of commodities and marketing. "These changes should result in a better distribution of conservation program services around the entire state."

Pryor said the permanent disaster program is an important change in federal policy.

 Previously, producers who lost crops, animals or trees to natural disasters could not receive assistance until a federal disaster designation was granted. "And when the designation was given, funding came out of another (standing) portion of the farm bill," he said.

The new program provides $3.8 billion for aid, coordinated with the federal crop insurance program by basing payments partially on farmers’ level of insurance coverage.

Bill includes mandatory COOL implementation, continues grant programs

Delayed in late 2005 until this fall, country-of-origin labeling by retailers for meat and produce is included in the 2007 Farm Bill.

The practice, also known as COOL, is intended to inform consumers. In the case of beef, lamb and pork products, a retailer can label a product as U.S.-grown only if it is from an animal born, raised and slaughtered exclusively in the United States.

Meat packers will be required to have access to records that show where animals were born, raised and processed, which will have a direct impact on producers.

Spencer Neale, senior assistant director of commodities and marketing for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, said COOL implementation "will hopefully result in increased demand for U.S.-produced items. Also of importance to Virginia livestock producers, the legislation will allow for the interstate shipment of state-inspected meats, which should help with current capacity limitations for those wanting to enter into or expand direct marketing of their meat products."

Neale noted that the new farm bill also continues the popular Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which has been administered by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

"And in the area of rural development, several grant programs to assist with value-added and cooperative agriculture development projects and increasing local food production and sales have been extended and enhanced," he added. "All of these programs have been beneficial to Virginia over the past few years."

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