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Farm Bill Front and Center Today

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July 26, 2007

The U.S. House today takes up legislation with major implications for farmers, rural communities, consumers and trade policy - a new five year farm bill. Minnesota Farmers Union president Doug Peterson is in Washington to watch the proceedings. A priority for him is the renewal of a policy ensuring farmers have a safety net, and can stay in business when the market changes.

"No federal taxpayers dollars are spent when prices are high. When prices are low, the support then moves in, so prices don't bottom out, and there's some assurances that you're going to have some stream of income, although not high profit with it."

The bill is not without controversy. One issue of contention is subsidies - who gets them, and how much do they get? The plan has a big Minnesota footprint. Representative Colin Peterson chairs the House Ag committee, and Congressman Tim Walz also sits on the panel. A final vote is expected this week. Then, it goes to the Senate, where both Minnesota Senators are on the Ag Committee.

Peterson says a major focus of the bill is on nutrition, such as "Meals on Wheels" for seniors, food stamps and the "Women and Infant Children" program. And, the plan reflects changing priorities.

"Consumers are asking for more organics and sustainably-produced items. There's items in there to allow a farmers' marketing program and promotion. There's also money in there for mandatory funding of USDA's cost-share program to support organic farmers."

He notes organic food sales are way up, and farmers are responding. Peterson adds that another component of the bill is "country of origin labeling," which will let buyers know where their food comes from, which has received attention because of recent reports of contaminated imports. And, it includes strong environmental provisions, such as extending the Conservation Reserve and the Wetlands Reserve Programs.

Jim Wishner/Eric Mack, Public News Service - MN