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Stop, look & listen
August is the month public officials traditionally use your tax dollars to travel to gather information, ideas and frequent flier miles they claim will help them serve you better.

Their travels remind me of my weeklong tour of Canadian agriculture each summer. The tour, based at a walleye lake in southern Ontario, keeps me informed on changes in Canadian agriculture like, oh, night crawler production, barley fermentation and cigar incineration.

It’s little different in American farm and ranch country. With debate over the 2007 Farm Bill lurking, politicians of every stripe, intellect and attire now lurk at every fair, coffee shop and pasture gate.

Already, the House Ag Committee has held 11 “field” hearings outside of Washington and several subcommittee “listening sessions” around the nation to “learn” what producers want in the 2007 Farm Bill.

The Senate Ag Committee, also searching for a 2007 Farm Bill recipe, has been or will be on the road from Albany, Ga. to Redmond, Wash. from late June through early September conducting at least eight Farm Bill field hearings.

The aggie politicos using the most shoe leather, however, are the unelected ones at the USDA. In March, USDA released 41 (41!) papers that summarized the public comments from 52 (52!) Farm Bill hearings it held around the nation in 2005.

USDA also plans dozens more Farm Bill gabfests around the U.S. in the coming months. No fewer than 15 sessions are scheduled from Brewer, Maine to Fairbanks, Alaska in the coming month on the absolutely breathless Farm Bill topic of “cooperative conservation and environmental partnerships.”

And, yes, it’s just coincidental that several of these hearings - featuring, the “Secretaries of Agriculture, Interior, Commerce, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality,” according to USDA - will be in states that sport both tough congressional races and tender, tasty fish.

None of this is new; it happens every August in an election year. Nor is the bottom line new this year. All this driving, droning and dredging has yet to produce any new fix to old Farm Bill failures.

Nor will it; at least not this year because Congress has scheduled only 15 working days more in Washington prior to the November elections.

If, however, the nation’s farm and ranch brain trust can squeeze 15 minutes into their smoked salmon-packed schedules, there is one place they could visit for a staggeringly blunt, fact-packed presentation on what to fix immediately in the 2007 Farm Bill.

And, best of all, they can make the visit without leaving their rooms at the Radisson. All they need to do is point their web browsers to and click to read the July 21, July 28 and Aug. 11 ag policy columns of the University of Tennessee’s Daryll Ray.

The three pieces - two on the failing Loan Deficiency Program begun under 1996’s failing Freedom to Farm; the third on the sacred “market access” concept - feature Ray’s typical feet-in-the-dirt policy analysis.

In short, they torch all the gassy palaver by all the farm yakkers to date.

For example, in his July 21 column on LDPs, Ray likens their use as a price-raising, export-boosting tool to that of “playing limbo with yourself. The lower you go, the lower you have to go.”

And, he adds, a basic truth all in Washington know but will not acknowledge: The “real beneficiaries” of LDPs “are not U.S. producers, but rather bulk commodity importing countries, commodity processors and other users... like integrated animal feeding operations.”

His July 28 piece reinforces that truth with historical facts and figures.

Then Ray takes on market access, or the near-holy grail that unfettered exports will bring prosperity to U.S. farmers and ranchers. After 25 years of Farm Bill tinkering to gain that access, however, he notes, today’s exports of the eight major U.S. crops hover around 80 to 85 percent of 1980 levels.

Ray’s well-reasoned analysis deserves a full airing during this month’s many “listening” sessions. Maybe our hired hands can fit it in when they’re not yakking.

This farm news was published in the August 23, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.