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Braley, Klobuchar say passing farm bill best way to help beginning farmers

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 08/30/2013 12:59 PM

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KENSETT, Iowa — A good way to help beginning farmers would be for Congress to pass the Senate's farm bill, U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said Friday on Jim Berge's farm near Kensett.

Berge showed the Democratic lawmakers the Farmall M his father bought after World War II with a GI loan. Braley took the tractor for a spin.

"Dad bought the cultivator, disk and everything that goes with it," Berge said.

Berge rents his ground to Zach Adams, a young farmer from Glenville, Minn. Adams said this year has been challenging with all the rain and last year was challenging due to drought.

"I'm fortunate that there have been some good times in agriculture which have made it a good time for a young guy to get in," Adams said.

Brandon Smeby, who farms with his father, Mark, near Joice, said he and Adams are fortunate that they have fathers who helped them get started.

Smeby said crop insurance is a key.

"If we didn't have crop insurance this year, I don't know what I'd do," Smeby said.

"Keeping crop insurance intact is a must," said Mark Smeby. "We need to get more beginning farmers. The age of farmers is getting quite old in this area."

Klobuchar, who is on the farm bill conference committee, said senators are waiting for the House to agree to a conference committee.

"We're ready to go in the Senate," Klobuchar said. "We passed our bill with really strong bipartisan support. The hope is that we can go to conference committee and move the bill. The Senate bill is a very strong bill with significant Republican support."

Klobuchar said if the House doesn't move forward by Sept. 30 when the farm bill extension passed a year ago ends, farm programs go back to levels from 50 years ago.

"Or we do another extension and then the young farmers and ranchers program and lots of the good work we've done on energy, which is really important to Iowa and Minnesota, goes down the tube," Klobuchar said.

The irony of ironies is that the new farm bill the Senate passed is a $24 billion budget saver over the last farm bill, she said.

"When we keep extending it, we have a more expensive farm bill because it keeps paying direct payments as opposed to transitioning to crop insurance," Klobuchar said. "Why the House wouldn't want to save $24 billion is beyond me."

Klobuchar told farmers two provisions in the Senate bill would help beginning farmers. One would give beginning farmers a 10 percent reduction in crop insurance payments their first five years. Another provision would make it easier for them to graze cattle on Conservation Reserve Program land during a drought. The Senate bill also includes grant and training provisions for new farmers.

"I've been pushing to get a farm bill through the House since last year when we couldn't even get a vote on the farm bill," Braley said. "Earlier this year, I voted for the first farm bill to come to the floor even though I had significant concerns about the deep cuts to the nutrition program. I voted for the amendments that would have mitigated those cuts. After that bill didn't pass, they brought a fake farm bill to the floor that 535 farm and nutrition groups strongly opposed."

Braley said he met with young farmers last week in Kensett, Eldridge and Cedar Rapids because the farm bill that passed in the Senate has provisions to help beginning farmers gain access to capital, training and get their foot in the door.

"We know farmers in Iowa are aging as a group and we need talented young Iowans to step up and take their place," Braley said. "That's why we're here."

Ben Tweeten of Kensett and Courtney Bartz of Grafton said they were happy to have the opportunity to talk to lawmakers.

Tweeten is recent graduate of Iowa State University and works at Viafield Cooperative. He would like to farm with his father, Brian. Bartz will begin her senior year at ISU this fall. She interned at the local cooperative and would like to farm.

"It's nice to see that they're concerned about start-up farming and doing something to promote ag," Bartz said.

"I want to believe that the speaker (Boehner) will allow the farm bill that was passed in the House to go to conference so we can start to work off the Senate bill so we can get a conference report both the House and Senate can vote on," Braley said. "If he allows that to happen, I'm confident we can get a farm bill."

Braley said the last thing his constituents want is another one-year farm bill extension.

"They want a five-year bill to give them predictability and a path forward to plan their farm operations," he said.