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Published March 01, 2012, 04:46 PM

‘Now’s the time’ for new farm bill

EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — The sooner the next farm bill is passed, the better, an aide to Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — The sooner the next farm bill is passed, the better, an aide to Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said.

“Now’s the time to get it done,” said Al Juhnke, agriculture/energy field representative for Franken.

Approving new legislation would become more difficult as Election Day this fall comes nearer, he said.

Juhnke, a former Minnesota state legislator, talked about the 2012 farm bill Thursday afternoon in East Grand Forks. Representatives of Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., were present, too.

A dozen people, most of them area farmers or retired farmers, attended the meeting.

The current farm bill, the U.S. government’s main agricultural and food policy tool, expires at the end of 2012 and new legislation needs to be written.

The East Grand Forks meeting is the tenth in a series of meetings across the state in which Franken sought input from farmers and others on the next farm bill. Attendance at each of the meetings was modest, but overall the meetings provided valuable input, Juhnke said.

His observations Thursday in East Grand Forks included:

• Direct government payments to farmers are likely to be cut.

• A strong crop insurance program subsidized by the federal government enjoys broad support from farmers and farm groups.

• Farmers need to continue to receive federal assistance when crop prices are poor or natural disasters strike.

“There has to be some sort of safety net still there. Last year, Texas was on fire and North Dakota was under water,” he said, referring to severe drought in Texas and widespread flooding in North Dakota.

• 74 percent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s budget goes for food and nutrition, with 25 percent allocated for “what we think of as traditional farming programs,” Juhnke said.

Given that, a better name for the farm bill would be the “farm and food bill,” he said.

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