Significant unmet needs exist under the current farm bill legislation,” says Ralph Grossi, president of American Farmland Trust in Washington DC. “These are vital to ensuring the profitability and sustainability of American producers, the safety and healthfulness of our food supply, the development of a thriving renewable energy sector, the protection and restoration of the environment and the nutritional needs of people across the land,” Grossi says.
American Farmland Trust says the 2007 farm bill must have increased budget authority to meet these needs and expand the public benefits of this far-reaching legislation. “It's very unfortunate that just at the time there is a clearer picture of where we could be investing public dollars in agriculture to lead us into the 21st century, there is apparently going to be declining funds for the next farm bill,” Grossi says.
The 2002 farm bill was written following three years of federal budget surplus, but when Congress writes the 2007 farm bill, it's under very different circumstances. “It's the bleakest budget picture in memory at a time when U.S. agriculture is looking for a better safety net that helps farmers expand conservation on working lands and provides for new market opportunities,” Grossi says.
He says current high grain prices, driven by surging interest in renewable fuels, means as much as seven to eight billion dollars a year less in the agriculture baseline when the federal budget figures are released this quarter.
“It means we are obligated to ensure that we can justify and explain how increased funding will benefit the public. So we have two farm bill debates this year: first in the Budget Committee to determine how much money we will have to spend, and then in the agriculture committees to decide how to allocate it. As the public, we have to decide how much money we want to allot to feeding the hungry, cleaning up the environment, on rural development and improving our diets, and much more.”
American Farmland Trust sees an urgent need for the agriculture and public sectors to contact their Congressmen and Senators. “Everyone who eats, everyone who is interested in cleaner air, cleaner water and renewable energy, everyone who is concerned about the increase in hunger and rising obesity and disease rates, everyone who is concerned about the health of our farmland and forests, everyone who cares about the vibrancy of agriculture and our communities (should be involved).” Grossi says.
“The 2007 farm bill is the single piece of legislation Congress will write this year with the greatest public consequences.”