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Published August 27, 2012, 09:27 AM

We need a farm bill now

In southern Minnesota, farmers play a vital role in producing food and other goods that we rely on every day and are the backbone of our local economy.

By: Tim Walz, Agweek

WASHINGTON — In southern Minnesota, farmers play a vital role in producing food and other goods that we rely on every day and are the backbone of our local economy.

When farmers do well, local businesses do well. With the current farm bill set to expire at the end of September, we owe it to our farmers, ranchers and those that rely on agricultural production to enact a new farm bill that invests in the future of rural America.

And we are close to doing so. The new farm bill is written and awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, as of this writing, House leadership has refused to bring the bill forward. Instead, they say they will put it off until after the election and maybe pass something in late November or December. Now, Congress is in its August recess.

This is unacceptable. Southern Minnesotans cannot afford to deal with the uncertainty that follows out-of-date policy extensions or lame duck action. The 2012 farm bill passed out of committee July 12 with a strong bipartisan vote of 35-11. It is ready to go, and, after hearing directly from southern Minnesotans, incorporates many of the provisions I authored. These provisions will:

•Make it easier for our youth to take up farming and ranching operations and agriculture entrepreneurship.

•Increase energy access in rural America by improving efficiency and reducing input costs for farmers and small businesses.

•Ensure farmers have the flexibility to grow a wide array of crops without penalty or fear of losing their insurance.

•Save taxpayer dollars, conserve critical wildlife and hunting habitats, while still allowing farmers to manage their lands as they see fit.

•Ensure farmers have a voice in shipping costs by directing the secretary of agriculture, on behalf of the interests of agriculture and rural America to participate in the activities of the Surface Transportation Board.

In addition, the new farm bill makes the U.S. Department of Agriculture more efficient by streamlining many programs to cut down on unnecessary paperwork and burdensome regulations for farmers. It eases access to lines of credit so farmers who want to expand their business have the tools necessary to do so. And it reforms out-of-date dairy policy and strengthens crop insurance to protect taxpayers, while also making sure farmers won’t literally lose the farm if disaster strikes.

In the past decade, the farm economy has been among the strongest sectors in our country. It is our job in Congress to ensure it stays that way. That is why I have worked with a bipartisan group of my colleagues to push House leadership to bring the farm bill forward for a vote. Moving forward, I will continue urging House leadership to do its job. We need a farm bill, and we need it now.

Editor’s Note: Walz is a Democratic U.S. Representative from Minnesota.