December 21, 2014

GUEST COLUMN: Why Vermont needs a farm bill now

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By Ted Brady and Bob Paquin

 

This fall, Congress has an important opportunity to create jobs and grow the economy by passing a long-term, comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill. The Vermont Congressional Delegation—Sen. Leahy, Sen. Sanders and Rep. Welch—are working hard to pass the Farm Bill because they know it affects every American, every day by providing a wide range of programs that strengthen our nation.

The Farm Bill is crucial to maintaining a strong agricultural sector and an abundant food supply that benefit all Americans. Over the past two years, producers have faced a multitude of disasters—from drought, to flooding, to blizzards. These events demonstrate how important the safety net is to keeping producers going strong. Under the 2008 Farm Bill, the Farm Service Agency was able to provide more than $12 million in disaster assistance in Vermont farmers using Farm Bill programs.

A new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would provide a new dairy program supported by Vermont dairy farmers, a strong crop insurance program, reauthorize the now-expired disaster assistance programs, and provide retroactive assistance for livestock producers. By reforming the safety net to eliminate the direct payment program—which pays producers whether or not they are in need of assistance—the Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would also save billions of dollars in the next decade.

In addition, it would allow USDA to continue export promotion efforts that have led to the best five-year period in agricultural trade in American history, and provide FSA with the tools to extend additional farm credit in Vermont.

The Farm Bill is also a job creation bill that would empower USDA to partner with rural communities to grow, expand and support new businesses.

A new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would help Main Street businesses grow and hire more, strengthen infrastructure in our small towns and provide new opportunities in bio-based product manufacturing and renewable energy. For example, in Vermont, USDA has provided more than $10.2 million since 2009 to help farmers, ranchers and rural businesses save energy through the Rural Energy for America Program. This and many other efforts could continue with a new Farm Bill.

A new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would make important investments in nutrition programs that provide critical assistance to vulnerable Americans, including children, seniors, people with disabilities who are unable to work, and returning veterans. It would enable USDA to continue our work with more than 500,000 producers and landowners to conserve the soil and water. It would undertake new strategies to improve agricultural research, and it would ensure a safe food supply.

All of these efforts strengthen our nation. A new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would continue the job growth we’ve seen in recent years and help grow the rural economy. That’s why President Obama has identified passage of a new Farm Bill as one of his top three legislative priorities this fall.

This is a prime opportunity to give America’s farmers, ranchers and producers the certainty they need about the next five years of U.S. farm policy, while investing in the rural communities that stand at the heart of our values. The Farm Bill has stood as a model of bipartisan consensus for decades. Leahy is a Farm Bill conferee as the most senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and we applaud Vermont’s entire congressional delegation for working with both Democrats and Republicans to come to a compromise on this new Farm Bill and we look forward to Senate and House conferees reaching a consensus to move it forward as soon as possible. Doing so will enable USDA to continue investing in Vermont.

Ted Brady is the USDA rural development state director and Bob Paquin is the USDA Farm Service Agency state executive director.

 
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