|By TIM THORNBERRY
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A series of eight Farm Bill Speak-Up meetings, hosted by Kentucky Farm Bureau, have begun around the state as a way to gather input from farmers on content and direction of new farm program legislation.
Farmers have had or will have an opportunity to meet with Farm Bureau officials to voice their opinion about issues and concerns they would like to see addressed in the 2007 farm bill.
“I think this is one of the most positive things we’ve done to help understand farmers’ concerns,” said Marshall Coyle, Kentucky Farm Bureau president. “I think the meetings, so far, have been excellent with good attendance and good comments. It’s a big job to put all the information together in helping put a Kentucky flavor to the next farm bill.”
Farm Bureau’s Farm Bill Core Commit-tee will use the information gathered in the meetings to form recommendations for the state’s Congressional delegation when discussion of the bill begins next year.
“We feel like we’ve had good meetings, and we’re doing the right thing in letting producers tell us what they like and don’t like from the last farm bill and what they would like to see in the new farm bill,” said Eddie Melton, chairman of the Core Committee. “We want to come back in after these meetings and come up with a consolidated plan that we can give to our representatives in Congress for agriculture recommendations in our state. We want to involve farmers in what’s good for Kentucky.”
According to both Coyle and Melton, discussions have ranged from animal identification to energy, but a common theme has been farmland conservation.
“One of the things expressed in all meetings was concern about good conservation programs and making sure they continue,” said Coyle. “The themes have been somewhat consistent giving our farmers a chance to express their opinions and that’s what we’re looking for.”
“Conservation practices and how important those practices are to farmers has been a big topic,” said Melton. “Farmers are also concerned about an energy policy since agriculture is so affected by fuel prices. Woodlot owners are interested in forestry issues, dairy farmers are concerned about milk prices and everyone is concerned about crop insurance.”
Farmland preservation has also been a concern during the first meetings, according to Melton. “Farmers want to stay on the farm and it’s challenging for young farmers starting out,” he said. “They want to know what they can do to get on the farm and stay on the farm. It’s a big challenge we have in agriculture.”
During the past year, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns has traveled across the country conducting meetings concerning the farm bill, as well.
“The Farm Bill impacts America’s entire ag community,” said Johanns. “No one is left out in terms of the impact. So the entire community should have a say in what the Farm Bill is all about. Policies must also keep pace with an evolving industry. Literally every year if not every day there are changes in products and tools and changes in our communities.”
In his first meeting in July of last year, Johanns discussed six questions and areas of focus for the farming community in America.
“The first thing is that we need to think about this next generation of farmers. Our policy should welcome that next generation,” he said.
“The second area is in the area of competitiveness. We must remain competitive not only in the domestic but in the global marketplace … the third area relates to the benefits themselves, the distribution of farm program benefits.
“Benefits should stabilize farm prices and incomes.
“The fourth question relates to rural economic growth. Farming and Rural America were once synonymous; they went hand in hand.
“The demographic and economic characteristics have dramatically changed…so the question we pose is, how can federal, rural and farm programs provide effective assistance in Rural America?
“Conservation has been a growing part of farm programs, and it’s our fifth focus, protecting our environment. Agriculture plays a major role in managing our natural resources and protecting them for future generations. The final area that we will look at is the expansion of ag markets, products, and research.
“The development of new products, markets and research is all about agriculture changing every day.”
Kentucky Farm Bureau officials will continue their meeting schedule throughout most of the summer.
For more information on Farm Bill issues visit the USDA website at www.usda.gov/farmbill
This farm news was published in the June 28, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.