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Uniting behind a family farm agenda

Agriculture.com Staff 11/12/2007 @ 7:02am

Hours before Iowa's Democratic Party drew a record crowd of 9,000 to its Jefferson-Jackson Day fundraising dinner in Des Moines Saturday, five Democratic candidates for President made their pitch to rural voters at a forum organized by National Farmers Union and Iowa Farmers Union.

The biggest differences were more in style than substance, as Senators Barack Obama, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and former Senator John Edwards spoke one-by-one to the crowd.

All five at the 2007 Food and Family Farm Presidential Summit support country of origin labeling. Most talked about their support for a ban on packer ownership of livestock. All support ramping up government mandates for ethanol and biofuels consumption. There was support for tough, lower payment limits. That has strong backing from Senator Chuck Grassley, the only prominent Republican to show up at the event which was open to all presidential candidates from both parties.

Many of the ideas the candidates pitched are already in the farm bill that Iowa's Democratic Senator, Tom Harkin, has shepherded through his Agriculture Committee only to see the bill bogged down in partisan politics on the Senate Floor.

Both the House and Senate farm bill plans include mandatory country of origin labeling, only the Senate bill bans packer ownership until 14 days before slaughter. And a Senate amendment to limit commodity program payments to $250,000 per couple, an effort pushed by Grassley and Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), is expected to come up first if the Senate debates the bill next week.

Harkin's work drew praise from candidate Chris Dodd, a Senator from Connecticut.

"What a tremendous job Tom Harkin does on behalf of farmers all across this great country of ours," Dodd told several hundred gathered at the Marriott Hotel.

Dodd said the farm bill was being held up by the Republicans, who don't want to give the Democrats credit for the bill.

But he said he thought the bill would pass the Senate, "my guess is before the week is over. I'm very confident it will get done."

Grassley sees that issue differently. He, too, would like to get the farm bill finished, he told Agriculture Online. But the farm bill is the last major piece of legislation at the end of this year. It represents the only chance for the minority party to bring issues up.

Like Dodd, Grassley believes that the Senate will start doing more than giving speeches about the farm bill and begin voting on amendments Tuesday. He's less optimistic about how fast the Senate will act. "I don’t know whether we'll be done by Thanksgiving," he told Agriculture Online.

Rumors were circulating at the Summit that the leaders in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were trying to work out a compromise on amendments to be considered with the farm bill. Grassley said he had not heard of any agreement being reached as of late Thursday, when he left Washington.

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