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American Farmland Trust releases farm policy plan
By DAVE BLOWER JR.
Farm World Editor

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A federal farm policy based on the three pillars of an income safety net, environmental stewardship and new market creation was supported last week by the USDA secretaries who served for Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Clayton Yeutter, the U.S. Trade Representative during the Reagan Administration from 1985-89 and USDA secretary for Bush from 1989-91, and Dan Glickman, USDA secretary for Clinton from 1995-2001, both supported a plan offered by the American Farmland Trust (AFT). The AFT’s policy came from meetings with farmers from across the country during the past two years, said AFT President Ralf Grossi.

“The clock is ticking for U.S. agriculture,” Yeutter said. “Our farmers and ranchers can and should control their own destiny by taking the lead on farm policy reform.

“The alternative is to risk World Trade Organization challenges that may impose ‘reforms’ on us that we would prefer to avoid – like the reforms that have already occurred in cotton. Either way the stage is set for major policy changes. If we handle them skillfully and creatively we can eliminate our WTO vulnerability while still serving U.S. farmers well.”

The AFT’s report claims that the current farm policy is not designed to meet the challenges for agriculture in the 21st century.

“The status quo is not an option,” said Grossi, who has led the AFT since 1985.

Grossi, Yeutter, Glickman and former National Pork Producers President and Indiana hog farmer John Hardin released the AFT report during a media briefing at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Monday.

The goals for the AFT’s policy are farm profitability and environmental stewardship. The three pillars are built on the foundation of research, technical assistance and a strategic land base, Grossi said.

“AFT’s new policy framework is the right formula for converting a potential policy train wreck into an unprecedented opportunity for a new generation of farmers and ranchers,” Glickman said. “These recommendations will recognize and reward farmers for stewardship of our nation’s resources and improve the nutrition of our citizens through expanding access to specialty crops and fresh, locally grown food. This vision will rebuild public confidence in federal agriculture spending.”

The safety net pillar would make commodity programs more inclusive than they are today, Grossi said. The current counter-cyclical and loan-deficiency payment programs would be replaced by this pillar. The safety net would include two items:

•Green payments that would reward farmers for their environmental stewardship
•Risk management programs that would help farmers cope with revenue volatility

Grossi said all farmers and ranchers would be eligible for green payments as long as they maintain an established level of environmental performance. The risk management programs would replace the current payments that are tied to price fluctuations of specific crops. The AFT said this could be accomplished with either a combination of government payments and private insurance - or an unrestricted private insurance program.

“AFT’s safety net options provide a transition away from market-distorting subsidies and will greatly increase our chances of expanding market access,” Hardin said. “There is little to be gained by extending policies rooted in the past. AFT wisely sets the stage for a 21st century farm policy that meets the needs of 21st century agriculture.”

The stewardship pillar of the plan would complement the green payments by providing cost-share funding to producers who alter farming practices to improve environmental quality. The AFT recommends that conservation programs are doubled from the current farm bill due to backlogged demand from farmers.

The new markets pillar would increase economic opportunities for farmers in the following areas:

•Support for entrepreneurial activity
•Improve access to global markets
•Expand renewable energy options
•Promotion of healthier diets
•Greater flexibility in program implementation

The AFT would like to see the creation of a $1 billion farm profitability grant program. These grants would create innovative business opportunities to enhance rural and agricultural prosperity, Grossi said.

Funding for the development of technologies to convert raw materials into biofuels and renewable energy sources would be essential to the program. Glickman added that U.S. automakers would be wise to become partners in this effort.

Grossi said, without a foundation, the new pillars of support would fall. He said America must protect a strategic base of its best agricultural land. The policy would reinvigorate food and agricultural research, provide expanded technical assistance to a broad range of farmers, jump-start a new generation of farmers and offer new opportunities to disadvantaged farmers.

Ron Warfield, a corn and soybean farmer from Illinois and former president of the Illinois Farm Bureau, also supports the plan, but he was unable to attend the press conference on Monday.

“The 2007 Farm Bill offers farmers the opportunity to shape the future of U.S. agriculture and begin the transition to a free and open global marketplace,” he said.

“Reform in domestic U.S. farm policy must go hand-in-hand with major reform in trade distorting farm and trade policies in the WTO Trade Agreement.”

Also on Monday, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns released a risk management analysis paper, the first in a series of papers intended to provide factual information and continue the national discussion about best policy approaches in preparation for the 2007 Farm Bill.

“Our purpose with these analysis papers is not to suggest policy, but to inform and educate the public,” Johanns said. “Creating the next farm bill should be a transparent process and I encourage everyone affected by farm policy to be actively engaged and to work with Congress on the next farm bill. The first step is to ensure that we have all the facts on the table and that is the goal of this paper. My hope is that this analysis will help to focus our national conversation as we work with Congress to develop future farm policy.”

Johanns said the next subject for analysis will be conservation.

The risk management paper is available at www.usda.gov

The AFT’s farm policy, titled Agenda 2007: A New Framework and Direction for U.S. Farm Policy, is available online at its website www.farmland.org

This farm news was published in the May 10, 2006 issue of Farm World.

5/10/2006