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Published April 01, 2013, 10:27 AM

Congress must finish the job on the farm bill

5-year bill critical to agriculture

By: Al Franken, Agweek

WASHINGTON — As Congress digs into federal farm policy this year, job one should be enacting a five-year Farm Bill that will give farmers and ranchers in Minnesota and across the country the certainty they need to plan for the future.

At recent farm bill meetings I’ve held all over Minnesota, I’ve repeatedly heard how important it is to Minnesota producers — and the state’s economy — that we finish this job.

That’s why I’ve co-sponsored legislation nearly identical to the five-year measure that passed the Senate in 2012 with overwhelming bipartisan support. The measure, introduced as a top priority in the Senate, will not only reform and modernize our agriculture programs and strengthen the farm safety net, but also create jobs and economic vitality in communities across the state.

Just as important, by reforming our agriculture programs, we can save money — tens of millions of dollars — to reduce the budget deficit.

I’m optimistic that in 2013, we won’t see a repeat of last year, when House leaders refused to allow a vote and saddled Minnesota farmers and ranchers with a short-term extension that runs only through September.

One key problem with the temporary farm bill is that it shortchanges investments in conservation and energy programs, help for beginning farmers and ranchers and a number of other important programs that help spur jobs and economic development in communities across Minnesota.

This year, I’ll be pushing to fund those important investments until a permanent farm bill is enacted.

I hope that after hearing from farmers and farm leaders from across the country in the past several months, the House leadership now understands how important it is that we put a five-year farm bill in place.

In February, a top Minnesota farm credit official outlined for me some of the difficulties that uncertainty about future farm policy poses for producers in Minnesota and across the country.

He said farmers are facing the rising cost of inputs such as land, machinery and equipment, as well as another year of possible weather disasters, making it important for them to have certainty about farm policy and about the farm safety net before they invest thousands — even millions — of dollars in their operations.

He also said the lack of a five-year farm bill is hurting young and beginning farmers, many of whom have seen their applications for guarantees at their local Farm Service Agency office go unprocessed because of the uncertainty of federal farm funding.

In short, it’s time for Congress to finish the job.

One of my top priorities during the farm bill debate has been to fight for programs that support investment in Minnesota’s energy economy. In fact, the recently introduced Senate farm bill includes my Rural Energy for America provision, which will help farmers and small businesses save money and earn income by investing in renewable energy and energy-efficient technology.

This program is used in Minnesota more than in almost any other state and is another example of how the state is a leader in energy innovation.

As a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I was pleased to be named chairman of a key subcommittee in March. Leading this panel will provide opportunities to promote Minnesota’s and the nation’s renewable energy efforts and to create good jobs across the state and the nation.

Growth in these sectors is critical to U.S. energy independence and to our future economic competitiveness.

As I’ve traveled across Minnesota, I’ve seen the energy innovations that are spurring jobs and economic growth, especially in rural communities. I plan to use this new chairmanship to bolster those kinds of emerging technologies by bringing those Minnesota ideas to Washington, D.C.

Editor’s Note: Franken, a Democrat, represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.