Senate Budget Committee Chairman, Kent Conrad (D-ND), told nearly 200 attendees at the first Southwest Council of Agribusiness annual membership meeting recently in Lubbock, Texas, that the House and Senate conference committee has six weeks left to complete the 2007 Farm Bill before the critical baseline changes.

“We have got to get this bill done,” Conrad said. “If the baseline changes, the resources available for the 2007 Farm Bill will go down. We all need to send a message to our senators and congressmen to get this farm bill done in a timely manner with a bi-partisan approach that keeps all of the nation's farming interests in mind.”

The SWCA was formed just over a year ago as an alliance of business interests that recognize the value of stable and strong farm policy to the region's economy and want to support the development and passage of a sound 2007 Farm Bill.

Council President Mark Williams said the SWCA allows all agricultural entities in the region to come together and operate under a consensus with enough political power “to get things done.”

“We carry a united message,” Williams said. “We can really make a presence in D.C. with the various groups represented in the Council. We have to keep an eye on our main goal, which is to protect agriculture in this area and inTexas.”

Senate Budget Committee Chairman, Kent Conrad (D-ND), was the meeting's keynote speaker, and was praised by Williams as “one of the most important people working on the farm bill.”

Conrad said funding, reform, conservation, nutrition and alternate counter-cyclical payments are among the main issues facing the farm bill conference committee.

Conrad challenged the current administration's national revenue-based counter-cyclical plan, saying it only works in the “I” states of Iowa, Indiana and Illinois and won't work in states like Texas.

“We're writing a national farm bill that needs to benefit agriculture nation-wide, not just parts of it,” Conrad said.

Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples addressed the impact of immigration on Texas agriculture.

Staples said dealing with illegal immigrants without disarming the economy, and still supplying a legal workforce for agriculture is among the top of immigration policy priorities.

“Immigration is an emotional issue and everyone has an opinion,” Staples said. “We must end illegal immigration permanently, and reform and enforce current immigration laws. No one wants that more than agricultural producers.”

Mark Lange, president and CEO of the National Cotton Council of America presented a macroeconomic outlook for U.S. agriculture, and John Miller with Southwest Agribusiness Consulting addressed price and energy trends in agriculture.

SWCA membership totals more than 70 agriculture businesses, commodity organizations and financial service providers from across Texas.

The organization is a broad-based coalition of commodity groups, agricultural bankers, equipment dealers and agribusiness interests dedicated to advancing policies conducive to maintaining a strong U.S. agriculture industry.

To assist its efforts, the SWCA retains the services of Combest, Sell & Associates, LLC, an agricultural lobbying firm organized by former U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest. Combest, Sell & Associates has quickly become one of the most respected agriculture lobbying firms operating in Washington. Through Combest-Sell and the SWCA, the legislative priorities of the High Plains agriculture industry are being communicated directly to key congressional leaders to positively shape the development of the 2007 Farm Bill.