Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, has ushered to the Senate floor the 2007 farm bill – the Food and Energy Security Act of 2007.  The measure passed the Committee on Oct. 25. 

Following are excerpts of Chairman Harkin’s opening floor speech on the bill, as prepared for delivery. 

Maintaining a Strong Farm Safety Net …

“In my view, a very positive feature of this bill is that we continue the counter-cyclical income protection system we reinstated in the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.  We also will allow farmers, at their option, to choose a new form of counter-cyclical program named Average Crop Revenue,  and modeled after legislation introduced by Senators Durbin and Brown.  This new choice for farmers will make farm income protection stronger and more flexible.  It will allow farmers better to manage their farms’ risk in today’s uncertain and evolving farm environment.”

Promoting Specialty Crops …

“This legislation will help our nation’s specialty crop growers to address the diverse array of challenges they face in today’s increasingly complex and competitive global marketplace.  The programs within this bill will help America’s specialty crop producers gain access to overseas markets where they can promote and sell their products.  It will also strengthen our national prevention and surveillance system for invasive pests and diseases, which will help protect the stability and health of fruits and vegetables in this country.  We increase research on specialty crops to prevent the spread of plant-based viruses.”

Improving Nutrition for a Healthier America …

“… to some, the farm bill may seem an abstraction – removed from the pulse of every day life.  But this is not the case.  The farm bill touches the lives of million of Americans – and no where is this more evident than in the nutrition title of the farm bill.  In the nutrition sections of this bill, we strengthen America’s commitment to fighting hunger and promoting sound health and nutrition.  By strengthening food assistance to low-income Americans, the bill that is before us will help millions of Americans who currently live in the shadow of hunger.  Because of the assistance that this bill provides, millions of Americans will put food on their tables, will be better able to afford child care so that they can enter the workforce, will be able to save modest sums for retirements and for the education of their children.  And because of this bill, millions of low-income children in school throughout America, will be introduced, some perhaps for the first time, to fresh fruits and vegetables that science tells us are critical to sound health and the prevention of diet-related chronic disease.”

Ramping Up Renewable, Farm-Based Energy …

“This energy title will help farmers and rural communities across the country to join a major transition in which our agricultural sector supplies clean biofuels and renewable energy for all of America.  It gives farmers a chance to add biomass crops to their farming operations, with federal support to protect against the financial risks associated with this transition.  It supports rural communities with their development of biorefineries for production of biofuels and bioproducts.  It also helps farmers and ranchers and rural small businesses who want to improve their own energy systems through grants and loan guarantees for energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy systems.  And, it emphasizes a particular opportunity – help for farmers and communities to install livestock manure to energy facilities that address environmental and odor problems while utilizing a valuable energy resource.  It will make investments in research that will complement and enhance rural energy production opportunities.”

Promoting and Supporting Good Stewardship of Land and Water …

“Agricultural and forest lands accounts for 69 percent of all land in the United State s.  This means that farmers, ranchers and forest-land owners are the first line of defense for our environment.  They are America’s “first conservationists.”  The Conservation title of the farm bill gives them the tools they need for voluntary efforts to conserve soil, to protect water and air quality, and to increase wildlife habitat on their land – and maintain and improve our nation’s natural resources for future generations.

Transitioning Farmers into Organic Production …

“In this bill, we make it a priority to help farmers who are serious about getting into organic production, and we help them overcome the challenges of transitioning into this industry.  For instance, we include $80 million over five years for research into organic production and marketing.  We included $5 million for price, yield and overall data collection (the industry has grown so quickly that, right now, this important market information is not being adequately captured).  We also removed the 5 percent surcharge arbitrarily charged to organic producers that want to reduce their risk by getting crop insurance. And we make the EQIP program more universally available for farmers to transition into organic agriculture while adopting sound conservation practices.” 

Fighting Hunger and Malnutrition across the Globe …

“In this bill we set aside a specific amount of funding under Title II for non-emergency, development assistance projects.  The creation of this safe box is intended to send a strong message that it is not acceptable for USAID to use non-emergency program funding as the piggy bank to raid if regular appropriations for Title II emergency programs are inadequate. 

“… the trade title also gives USAID authority for a pilot program to conduct local or regional cash purchase of food.  For the last few years, the President has requested authority to use up to 25 percent of Title II funds for local or regional cash purchase, but I think this concept needs careful testing before we consider adopting it on a larger scale.  I also want to make clear that I see local cash purchase as a complement to donation of U.S. commodities, not as a substitute.”

Promoting Farmers Markets and Locally Grown Foods …

“Too often, farmers can and want to expand production of foods to be sold locally, but they face difficulties finding markets.  Larger retail outlets want consistent and abundant quantity, which is something a small farmer can’t always provide.  This bill seeks to solve this problem by fostering new opportunities for farmers to band together, and by providing funding through the value-added development grant program as well as loans through the Business and Industry Loan program.  The aim is to make it possible for farmers and others to aggregate or distribute locally grown foods from many small farms, and to market their products to larger retail stores. “  

Creating More Vibrant Rural Communities and a Stronger Rural Economy …

“The Agriculture Committee has responsibility for crafting public policies that support not only farmers but all our citizens who live in small towns and rural communities.  Rural America confronts unique challenges because of its low population density, the limited capacity of local governments, and other special circumstances.  In recent years, we have come to appreciate that agriculture and rural development are closely intertwined and have a common fate.  And we need to go forward with a policy framework that supports both our farms and our rural economy.”

Advancing Agricultural Research …

“The research title will increase competitive grant opportunities for basic and applied agricultural research, and strengthen the research, extension and education programs administered by USDA through land-grant institutions.” 
 
Assisting Beginning Farmers …

“The largest obstacles to farm entry for a beginning farmer and rancher are access to credit and land.  Since 1990, a portion funding in the Farm Service Agency loan programs have been reserved for beginning farmers and ranchers.  This bill expands the credit opportunities for beginning farmers by increasing the funding set aside in the Farm Service Agency loan programs and increasing the direct farm ownership and operating loan limit for the first time in over two decades.  Socially disadvantaged farmers face many of the same challenges beginning farmers do.  In recognition of this, the bill increases opportunities for socially disadvantaged farmers by authorizing wider participation in FSA loan programs.”

Preserving Competition in the Livestock Industry …

“I am proud of the fact that this is the first farm bill ever to include a livestock title dedicated to the needs of livestock, poultry and egg producers, and aimed at promoting animal health and expanding market opportunities.”  

Strengthening Food Safety …

“Let me mention that – at the urging of Senator Durbin – the bill requires the creation of a Congressional Bipartisan Food Safety Commission.  This commission would be responsible for reviewing the nation’s food safety system and making recommendations on how best to modernize the current structure.  Over the last year, we’ve had outbreaks of E. coli contamination in bagged spinach and lettuce and numerous recalls of very large quantities of meat and meat products.  We’ve had repeated cases of contaminated food – everything from peanut butter to seafood to hamburger.  So the work of this new Congressional Bipartisan Food Safety Commission will be both timely and urgent.”