Powerful Congresswoman introduces a farm bill
Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut may not be a household name to Midwestern corn and soybean farmers, but as the chairwoman of the Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee, she will have a key role in deciding how much money actually goes to the 2007 farm bill that's being worked on in the House and Senate agriculture committees.
So it's worth noting that DeLauro and Maryland Republican Representative Wayne Gilchrest announced Thursday that they've put together their own version of a farm bill, the Farm, Nutrition and Community Investment Act.
DeLauro said that farmers in her region historically have gotten only about two percent of USDA dollars, far less than the share that goes to producers of program commodities like corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice in other regions.
Some of the details of the bill that deal with dairy income support are still being worked on, but the bill, if passed by Congress, would increase support for developing local and regional food production, expand working lands conservation programs to all states and create a new program to help farmers interested in organic farming make the transition.
"We have a work in progress here and a responsiveness to try and incorporate some of the concerns of the mid-Atlantic region and the Northeast," DeLauro said at a press conference Thursday.
She said she doesn't yet know the exact cost of her bill but that her office would be asking for estimates from the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget in the White House.
Ralph Grossi, president of American Farmland Trust, was delighted with the bill. It incorporates some of Grossi's conservation group's own ideas, such as giving USDA block grants to states who can decide how best to support local food production. And Grossi said his staff helped coordinate ideas worked out by the region's state ag secretaries and commissioners that were then used by congressional staff who wrote the bill.
Grossi said support for the bill is moving beyond the Northeast, too, with representatives from Illinois and California supporting it.
"We've already picked up support from other states outside the region. Now it's taken on the look of a regional food systems bill," he told Agriculture Online.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) said Thursday that his staff has been in touch with DeLauro's staff and that he's aware of the bill. And DeLauro said that she talked about it with Peterson Wednesday evening.
Peterson said that his ag committee will likely include some of DeLauro's ideas when it writes the farm bill, but that he has also talked about money being scarce for the farm bill in general.
"We're trying to take the best of these ideas and include them in the overall direction we're going," Peterson told reporters Thursday.
Some of the ideas advanced by the DeLauro-Gilchrest bill would:
- Improve the food stamp program by stopping the erosion of food stamp benefits and streamlining the application process;
- Expand programs that facilitate consumer access to healthy foods and promote specialty crops at the local and regional levels;
- Expand fruit and vegetable programs to schools nationwide and allows for geographic preferences in food purchasing programs;
- Provide states with a significant sources of funding for programs and projects that reflect the diversity and needs of each state's agricultural sector-programs;
- Improve the operation of working lands conservation programs and increase access for producers by recognizing the unique characteristics of their farming operations in formula allocations and funding priorities;
- Expand a state's ability to access and develop many different sources of renewable energy produced by agricultural operations and improves on-farm energy efficiency;
- Ensure that dairy programs reflect the unique needs of various regions; and
- Create a new national organic certification and transition program, and promotes research into invasive species.