Senators to Vilsack: 'Stop Pitting Farmers Vs. School, Nutrition Programs

March 19, 2009 07:00 PM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Farm-state senators urge Vilsack to 'refrain from using rhetoric that unfairly attacks' production agriculture

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

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 rural economy.”

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 (R-La.).

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 lawmakers.

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.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


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