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Published March 01, 2011, 07:50 AM

Ag committee chair touts farm bill programs that fit production ag

CRYSTAL CITY, Va. — Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Feb. 24 she wants to make farm programs established in the 2012 farm bill “work for production agriculture,” and that her committee, the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Protection Agency are putting together a joint working group on EPA’s agriculture regulation.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

CRYSTAL CITY, Va. — Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Feb. 24 she wants to make farm programs established in the 2012 farm bill “work for production agriculture,” and that her committee, the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Protection Agency are putting together a joint working group on EPA’s agriculture regulation.

Speaking at the USDA Outlook Forum, Stabenow noted that the country faces serious deficit and budget pressures and needs to live within its means.

“We need to make the best use of our limited dollars, and make sure we’re using them on programs and policies that work for production agriculture today,” she said.

Stabenow’s use of the term “production agriculture” at the forum, whose audience tends to be focused on large-scale agriculture and exports, is notable because she is known for authoring the specialty crops title of the farm bill. Some commodity group leaders have expressed concern that Stabenow might be more oriented toward fruits and vegetables than corn, soybeans and other commodities.

Principles over programs

Stabenow said she will ask everyone with an interest in the farm bill to focus on principles, not programs.

“We should start with principles that will guide us as we evaluate what works and what doesn’t in today’s economy to address the unique challenges facing our farmers today and into the future,” she said.

“We want to look at what’s working and what’s not working, because we cannot afford to operate and manage many different programs that have questionable effectiveness,” she added.

The first principle Stabenow mentioned was creating an effective safety net and tools for managing risk.

“We have farmers sinking almost $300 per acre into the ground in the spring in the hopes that it will produce a valuable crop a few months later,” Stabenow said, noting that a safety net is needed so “we aren’t watching family businesses go under because of a few days of bad weather or other factors outside of your control.”

Aiding employment

Stabenow also said she thinks of the farm bill as a way to boost employment. She noted that Michigan has the greatest crop diversity in the country after California, producing more than 125 different food and fiber products on more than 10 million acres, contributing more than $70 billion a year to the state economy, and creating one out of every four jobs in the state.

“You can’t be from Michigan and not see everything from the standpoint of jobs,” she said. “That’s why, for me, the farm bill is really a jobs bill.”

Mentioning that she has been working on environmental regulations for years, Stabenow said she and Senate Agriculture ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., are working together to form a working group with USDA and EPA to start discussions “to provide certainty and clarity for agriculture.”

Referencing one of the most unpopular EPA proposals, Stabenow said, “We might need to remind them that country roads can sometimes be a little dusty, and there’s not much we can do to change that.”

The EPA has suggested restricting dust on unpaved roads.

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