via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.
Farm-state senators urge Vilsack to 'refrain
from using rhetoric that unfairly attacks' production agriculture
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Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) joined Sen. Saxby
Chambliss (R-Ga.), ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee,
and other senators on Thursday in sending a letter to USDA Secretary Tom
Vilsack urging him “to refrain from using rhetoric that unfairly
attacks the farmers and ranchers who form the foundation of America's
Background: Earlier this month, Vilsack stated that
the upcoming reauthorization of the school nutrition program and the
larger agenda of the Department of Agriculture is a choice between 30
million children or 90,000 farmers (the number of farmers estimated
to be impacted by the Obama administration's controversial proposal
to phase out over three years direct payments to producers with gross
sales over $500,000 – a proposal that House Ag Committee Chairman
dubbed “dead before arrival” on Capitol Hill.
In the letter, the Senators said Congress can reauthorize
the school nutrition programs, provide adequate funding to meet the
urgent needs of US children, while at the same time maintain the support
promised in the 2008 Farm Bill to US production agriculture. They added
USDA has responsibility for a wide variety of interests and “should
be able to advocate for one without vilifying another.”
Facts and figures. The letter detailed that of the
2.2 million farms in the US, there are 120,859 with sales above $500,000
representing 74 percent of all production value in the country. Of those
farms, the letter noted, the vast majority receive some form of government
payments that will be impacted by the proposal. “Furthermore,
the $500,000 threshold disregards the costs to produce our country's
food, feed, fiber and fuel every day. As a former Governor of Iowa you
obviously know that farmers have variable operating costs and in some
years their input prices, through no fault of their own, often exceeds
the price of the crop they deliver to the elevator, mill or gin. In
fact, the $500,000 limit in the budget proposal would easily hit a medium
sized corn and soybean farm of only 1,000 acres. Any of your former
constituents would tell you that 1,000 acres is not a large 'corporate
megafarm' or agribusiness in Iowa.”
The senators applauded Vilsack's comments about diversifying
income opportunities for farmers through renewable fuels and
value-added agriculture, but wrote that Vilsack's opportunities “are
only concepts at this point and cannot provide the needed support overnight.
Producers cannot flip a switch and change their production methods.
They have invested billions of dollars in existing operations upon which
many others depend. Change must be thoughtful and implemented gradually
so there is minimal disruption.”
Besides Roberts and Chambliss, other Senators signing the letter
were Sens. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Mike
Crapo (R-Id.), James Risch (R-Id.), John Thune (R-S.D.), and David Vitter
Comments: Finally some
common-sense words on a topic that Washington rookie Vilsack should have
been called on by not just Republican farm-state senators, but also Democratic
Vilsack earlier this week signaled he could have used better words
to communicate his thoughts on the matter. I'm waiting for those better
words. It's hard to disguise trying to pit one group against another.
This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or
retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.