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Lawmakers not tracking ’07 farm bill debate, yet
By NANCY VORIS
Indiana Correspondent

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — The 2007 farm bill may not appear on the radar in Washington, D.C., this year, but Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups are keeping the discussions rolling.

Indiana Farm Bureau recently hosted a farm bill focus meeting at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds. IFB Director of National Government Affairs Kent Yeager said the meeting was geared toward Midwestern farmers, to ensure that their interests are given the same weight as farmers in other areas of the country.

The current farm bill expires at the end of the 2007 crop year.

“Our goal was to get people to engage in discussion on some of the relevant issues and understand the broader dynamics of trade and the budget,” Yeager said. “We’re not on a tight timeline. What I expect is an extension of the current (farm bill) for a year or so and see if anything happens with WTO, anything of consequence. I think there’s more than a 50 percent chance to extend for a year or two.”

Dr. Allan Gray, an agricultural economist from Purdue University, was the keynote speaker at the meeting. He said the new farm bill is a low priority on Capitol Hill, right now.

“There is no discussion in Washington now on the new farm bill,” Gray said. “The fact is, they could care less until after the November elections. It could be 2007 before they start work.”

He said four issues will be at play as the new farm bill is written: Trade, the federal budget, politics and policy alternatives.

The budget deficit may have little to do with the new farm bill, since seven of the nine previous farm bills were written during deficit times, he said.

Gray speculates that the 2007 bill is likely to have less funding than the 2002 version, with a reduction in subsidies and enforced payment limits. He also expects some shifting of funds for more support of environmental programs, and continued subsidization of ethanol and biodiesel.

Gray said a 10 percent blend of ethanol nationally would require 41 percent of the current U.S. corn crop. Likewise, a 5 percent blend of biodiesel nationally would require 61 percent of the current U.S. soybean crop.

One amendment currently on the table for the farm bill is H.R. 2045, proposed by Indiana Rep. Mike Pence. It would provide producers on a farm with greater flexibility in selecting crops to be planted on the base acres of the farm.

Currently, farmers without a history of fruit or vegetable production face stiff penalties if they choose to grow these crops, Pence said.

First, a farm’s historical production is used to calculate its base acreage, so existing fruit and vegetable farmers fear they will be penalized should Congress choose to update base acreage in the future. Second, farmers without a history of fruit or vegetable production face stiff penalties if they choose to grow these crops.

“This means that most producers can no longer reduce their reliance on the farm programs by rotating vegetable production onto their land,” Pence said. “H.R. 2045 would provide flexibility to allow new growers to enter fruit and vegetable production, provided they are willing to forego government subsidies on that land on an acre-for-acre basis.”

Tracy Mabry, president of the Johnson County Farm Bureau and a member of IFB’s farm bill committee, said the fall elections can sway the direction of the 2007 farm bill.

“What people don’t realize is that it’s a national farm bill, not just for Indiana,” said Mabry. “It’s hard to get everything we want because it’s not just corn and soybean farmers.”

Yeager agreed, saying that discussions need to focus on what is important for Indiana agriculture and blend that with what is good for the rest of the country.

IFB plans to have additional meetings in the fall and winter.

7/13/2006