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Farmers told to urge passage of Farm Bill

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Posted: Friday, September 13, 2013 1:43 pm

GRAND ISLAND - While farmers at Husker Harvest Days examine the latest in farm and ranch equipment, talk continues on the lack of a five-year Farm Bill from Congress.

Don Hutchens, executive director of the Nebraska Corn Board, said last year at Husker Harvest Days, they were urging Congress to pass a Farm Bill. One year later, they are again asking farmers to urge their elective officials to pass a Farm Bill.

"We were out here last year with banners saying pass the Farm Bill now, and we got hundreds and hundreds of signatures in support of that, and we delivered them to our elected representatives in Washington," Hutchens said.

While the Senate has passed a Farm Bill, the House version was stripped of its nutrition program, which traditionally makes up 80 percent of the Farm Bill. The bill has yet to go to the House/Senate conference committee.

Also, there is strong opposition to extending the old Farm Bill for another year as a fall-back measure.

"That leaves farmers and cooperators we work with in promoting our product around the world with a lot of unknowns," Hutchens said. "It should honestly be unforgivable in the aspect of here we are in the second year without a five-year Farm Bill."

A recent Nebraska trade mission to Asia was able to sign a $400 million deal to send Nebraska corn, soybeans and wheat to Taiwan. Hutchens said corn-checkoff dollars farmers pay with the sale of every bushel of corn help fund those foreign trade offices, along with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Without a Farm Bill, that funding will be cut off at the end of the month.

To urge Congress to pass a Farm Bill, Hutchens said the Nebraska Corn Board's website has a link that will allow farmers to email letters of support for the Farm Bill directly to House leadership.

"We need to let them know that we need a Farm Bill now," he said.

Royce Schaneman, executive director of the Nebraska Wheat Board, said the lack of a Farm Bill has a "huge impact" on wheat farmers.

"Farmers are not one commodity specific," Schaneman said. "They raise many commodities. But when there is uncertainty, it just creates a lot of havoc. If they have some policies and programs in place, that would really help the farmers out."

Without market access programs funded by the Farm Bill, Schaneman said, wheat farmers, who also help to fund those foreign trade offices, could lose important access to the international market.

"With those dollars being in jeopardy, if we don't have those we could lose a lot of foreign market development," Schaneman said. "We don't want an extension; we want new policies."

Victor Bohuslavsky, executive director of the Nebraska Soybean Board, said the lack of a Farm Bill takes away from the attributes of the soybean loan program, along with important conservation programs that help farmers increase production and protect the soil and water resources.

"It also takes away some of our export help we get from the foreign ag service," he said.

Bohuslavsky said agriculture is dynamic and fluid on an international scale, which demands a new Farm Bill to increase trade and protect farming interests, along with continued research and development.

"We can't afford to go back," Bohuslavsky said. "America is progressing faster now."

Also, Hutchens said some members of Congress would like to diminish the Renewable Fuels Standard that Congress passed in 2007, allowing the ethanol industry to boom in Nebraska.

The RFS created a new demand for corn and lifted prices above the cost of production. Government support programs did not have to kick in to subsidize farmers' production costs. That increase in corn prices helped boost Nebraska's economy, and there was an additional economic impact from the value-added processing of that corn into ethanol.

Hutchens pointed out that Nebraska is poised to become the nation's leading cattle-feeding state because of not only its abundance of corn and soybeans but also the livestock feed by-product, both in a dry and wet form, from the production of ethanol.

Increasing the number of cattle on feed in Nebraska gives an additional boost to the red meat production industry, in which Nebraska is already the nation's leading state.

"Our fear is that, if we open up the Renewable Fuels Standard, there is a bigger risk of something significant happening to what we have built over these years," he said. "We prefer that it is not opened up. We are at that brink of providing 15 billion gallons of ethanol. Let the system work."

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