Farmers need new markets now

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Kansas farmers and their counterparts across this country have a long history of being the most dependable supplier of crops and livestock anywhere in the world.

This nation’s agricultural producers have always been there during feast or famine – ready to supply hungry mouths around the world. For several years U.S. farmers have faced trying economic times. This year’s sweltering heat and lack of rainfall continue to plague producers.

Four years of falling prices have chewed up savings and pushed many farmers to the brink of disaster.

The $5.5 billion emergency assistance package signed recently by President Bush and supported by both parties in Congress offers a needed, welcome reprieve in farm country.

Emergency not over. While this emergency measure is greatly appreciated, plenty remains to be done on the agricultural front to ensure farmers and ranchers remain in the business of growing food.

The first order of business must be to help expand markets for U.S. grain, livestock and other food products. This can be accomplished by quickly passing legislation that will encourage export growth while using the money already budgeted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promote farm products.

Push trade negotiations. It is crucial for the United States to push all trade negotiations to the limits.

Foreign competitors certainly are. During the past decade, this country has reduced its commitment to expand agricultural exports through commercial programs and humanitarian food assistance. Agricultural producers are asking Congress to change this.

Trade promotion. Providing President Bush with trade promotion authority would go hand in hand with the proposal to increase trade. As agricultural producers, we must ask Congress to pass the Trade Promotion Act of 2001 (HR 2149).

HR 2149 specifies a number of objectives including the reduction of tariffs, elimination of subsidies that distort U.S. producer access in foreign markets, improvement of dispute settlement rules, elimination of state trading enterprises, disciplines on domestic support programs and improved rules to address import-sensitive products.

Ethanol legislation. The third step to aid the struggling agricultural sector would involve passage of ethanol legislation. Domestic markets can be primed with congressional action.

Farmers are urging Congress to pass the “Renewable Fuels for Energy Security Act of 2001 (S.1006 and HR 2423). With this act, farm-raised crops including corn, milo and soybeans will be used in greater quantities to produce ethanol and biodiesel that are renewable sources of clean motor fuel.

Get involved. Building this country’s agricultural trade is a daunting task. The world agricultural market remains littered with roadblocks. Tariffs, trade barriers and export subsidies all block market opportunities.

While members of Congress are home during the summer recess, farmers and ranchers from across the country must take this opportunity to talk trade and insist that immediate action be taken to help the agricultural industry.

(John Schlageck has been writing about farming and ranching in Kansas for 25 years. He is the managing editor of Kansas Living, a quarterly magazine dedicated to agriculture and rural life in Kansas.)

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