House Agriculture Committee works toward new farm bill

Published 5:00 am Monday, July 9, 2007

By By Jo Bonner
As the House returns to Washington this week, those of us on the House Agriculture Committee will continue working towards the new multi-year, omnibus bill that, among other things, addresses our nation's food supply and provides a safety net for farmers and ranchers.
The new 2007 Farm Bill will cover everything from federal farm support for America's farmers, to food assistance for the needy, agricultural trade, marketing and rural development policies.
Throughout this process, Congress has made an extraordinary effort to reach out to farmers and those directly affected by the Farm Bill.
The House Agriculture Committee held field hearings throughout the country last year, including one on the campus of Auburn University hosted by Congressman Mike Rogers (R-Saks).
I, along with Congressman Terry Everett (R-Rehobeth), and 11 other House Agriculture Committee members, heard from two panels of witnesses regarding a variety of farm policy issues and what modifications should be made.
Local producers, agriculture officials and students were among the almost 200 members of the community who attended the hearing.
As ranking member of the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry, I am taking an active role this year in the food and nutrition debate – as well as looking out for the interests of Alabama's farmers.
Since coming to Congress, I have worked closely with our local farmers, the Alabama Department of Agriculture, led by Commissioner Ron Sparks, associations such as Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA), the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and others to try to address the broad needs of the Alabama agriculture industry.
Some of you may not realize that agriculture remains Alabama's No. 1 industry – over $5 billion in annual receipts. And, according to USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, there are more than 45,000 people in Alabama who consider themselves farmers.
Altogether, agribusiness industries provide an estimated 467,000 jobs for Alabamians – about 21 percent of the state's workforce. These industry-supported jobs include farm equipment dealers, seed and feed suppliers, food processors, exporters and retailers. Together, these industries impact our state's annual economy by more than $40 billion.
Many of the provisions of the current 2002 farm bill will expire later this year, and we have been busy evaluating the policies that have been in place – some for decades – to see which ones should be extended, which ones need amending and which ones need to be terminated.
Keep in mind that when the 2002 farm bill was enacted, the estimated price tag for the mandatory programs that most directly benefit America's farm sector was $114 billion over six years.
The fact is, however, because of a relatively strong farm economy over the past five years and with good prices in many key areas, the 2002 farm bill actually came in at $93 billion, with a savings of some $20 billion to the taxpayers.
All six of the Agriculture Committee's subcommittees have made recommendations under their jurisdiction which will now be considered by the full committee. The 2007 Farm Bill may reach the House floor by the end of the month.
While the new farm bill has a ways to go, enough progress has been made that we can at least be hopeful that the "safety net" for America's farmers will be there for the future, as it has been in the past.
You can follow the progress of the 2007 Farm Bill by going to .
Visiting Russia, Estonia and Sweden
Republican leader John Boehner asked me to join him on a congressional delegation trip to Russia, Estonia and Sweden. The quick trip offered us the opportunity to discuss with leaders of those countries the current issues they are facing.
Sweden has been very supportive of the United States' efforts in the Global War and Terror, while Russia has been very supportive of our efforts in Afghanistan.
President Bush recently welcomed Estonian President Ilves to the White House where he commended him for being a strong advocate for democracy and the marketplace.
I am grateful the leader asked me to go and represent not only south Alabama but also to represent one of the nation's major ports. In St. Petersburg, I had the chance to meet with some of the port officials to talk about possible future opportunities for trade with Alabama and the port of Mobile.
My staff and I work for you. If we can ever be of service, do not hesitate to call my office toll free at 1-800-288-8721 or visit my website at
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.

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