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Organizations unite and call on Congress to pass farm bill

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 07/15/2013 9:58 AM

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It's time for Congress to move past gridlock and to move on important legislation, Minnesota Farmers Union president Doug Peterson said last week.

Minnesota Farmers Union is one of 532 organizations that signed a letter urging support for the farm bill. The letter was sent to House Speaker John Boehner and carbon copied to every member of the House of Representatives.

Peterson said he's never seen that many organizations unite in support of the farm bill or another piece of agricultural legislation. National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson and Chandler Goule, vice president of government relations, spearheaded the effort to gather signatures, Peterson said.

The letter, dated July 2, asks Boehner to bring the farm bill back to the floor as soon as possible.

"This important legislation supports our nation's farmers, ranchers, forest owners, food security, natural resources and wildlife habitats, rural communities and the 16 million Americans whose jobs directly depend on the agriculture industry," the letter reads.

Farmers are at the same place they were a year ago at this time, Peterson said. The Senate had passed its version of the farm bill as did the House Agriculture Committee. Last year, the full House never voted on the bill. This year, they voted it down. The expiration date again is Sept. 30. The only reason the farm bill was extended to Sept. 30, 2013, was because of the dairy cliff, when legislators feared inaction would harm consumers and cause the retail price of milk to soar, he said.

"Farm bills represent a delicate balance between America's farm, nutrition, conservation and other priorities ..." the letter reads.

Peterson said it's vital to keep the nutrition title within the larger farm bill. Splitting it from the farm bill is a nonstarter because it won't pass the Senate, he said. Nutrition assistance is vital to rural and urban Minnesota because the funding comes back in the form of nutrition assistance for nursing home residents, Meals on Wheels, school lunch programs and Women Infants Children.

He says if opponents are successful in splitting the farm bill, they won't stop at nutrition. Next, they will go after crop insurance and conservation.

A coalition of interests is needed to pass the bill, Peterson said.

"It is vital for the House to try once again to bring together a broad coalition of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to provide certainty . . .," the letter reads.

Peterson said, "we have to ask, you can't give up hope. You have to ask. You have to hope that Congress will come to its senses."

If the bill isn't passed, it is a missed opportunity to do budget reduction and reform, he said. The bill contains many reforms, including consolidating several conservation programs and eliminating direct payments.

Organizations signing the bill include: Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative, Minnesota Canola Council, Minnesota Corn Growers Association, Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation, Minnesota Farmers Union, Minnesota Forest Industries, Minnesota Grain and Feed Association, Minnesota Lamb and Wool Producers, Minnesota Pork Producers Association and the Minnesota Timber Producers Association.