AFBF declares farmers want results, not partisanship

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RENO, Nev. – While the certainty of a new farm bill eluded America’s farmers in the waning days of 2001, farmers overall remain committed to securing a new law sooner rather than later, according to American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman.

At a news conference opening AFBF’s 2002 annual meeting, Stallman said he believes farmers and ranchers in this country don’t care who wins or loses partisan battles related to the farm bill, but they are united in the fact that “they want results.”

“They got (results) through the House (farm bill),” Stallman said. “We’d like to see the Senate do the same thing in a bipartisan fashion. That’s what we’re going to work toward when they come back (from recess).”

Coalition failed. Stallman commented that he believes America’s farmers are united, and even though a Farm Bureau-led coalition effort to win passage of a Senate farm bill in 2001 failed, it showed the importance of “an industry like agriculture to be united when we go forward.”

“There wasn’t total agreement among those groups as to precisely the details of what needed to be done on the farm bill, but our unified message was very clear, that we needed a farm bill sooner rather than later, and we needed to keep the process moving,” Stallman said. “I think that effort carried a lot of weight – probably not sufficient weight given the final events and the fact we didn’t get it done, but I think it sent a strong message.”

Momentum stalled.Stallman expressed concerns about recapturing momentum on the farm bill after the holiday recess. He said the break “creates more uncertainty for farmers and ranchers,” but he remains hopeful that time remains to implement a new farm bill for 2002 crops.

“I think it will be very difficult for (Congress) to finish – not impossible – but difficult for them to finish implementation of a new farm bill for 2002 crops,” he said.

“That’s what our producers are standing back and looking at, along with their bankers. They are asking what the future holds as they go forward (in efforts) to finance and plan for this year’s crop. The delay has caused some concern and increased uncertainty in the countryside.”

Budget concerns. Stallman said Farm Bureau remains wary about funding scenarios.

“We are still concerned about what may happen as new budget discussions start up and new budget estimates come out, given the state of our economy and what that may mean to the political debate,” Stallman said.

“It certainly hasn’t helped us that (the farm bill) has been delayed, but whether it will hurt us sufficiently to really create (funding) problems or just create some additional delay remains to be seen.”

Get Senate moving. Stallman said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has indicated that the farm bill will be one of the first items of business once the Senate reconvenes, but a lot of work remains on the farm bill front.

“We’re going to be in there continuing to encourage senators, both Republicans and Democrats, to come together,” said Stallman. “Make some changes here, make some changes there to get a consensus bill out so we can move forward to conference.”

The shape of the final farm bill likely will be a compromise between the Daschle bill now pending in the Senate and the House bill, according to Stallman.

He said that if a new farm bill is not implemented for 2002 crops, “there’s a pretty good chance” for a fifth consecutive year of supplemental assistance payments.

“It’s uncertain and unfortunate that producers can’t go to their bankers and say this is what’s going to happen, because we really don’t know,” Stallman said. “I fully expect that we would receive another supplemental assistance payment, absent some miraculous increase in prices – which I don’t see on the horizon by any stretch.”

Water rights debate. Stallman also commented on Farm Bureau’s solid opposition to a controversial amendment regarding water rights introduced by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., that is currently attached to the Senate farm bill.

In late 2001, Stallman said, the AFBF board decided to “support removal of that language in any shape, form or fashion in which we can get it in the Senate. And if (the amendment) is in the final bill, we will oppose the final bill on passage.”

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