LaPorte Herald-Argus - Donnelly Outlines Benefits of Farm Bill
By Derek Smith
LA PORTE -- Last week, the La Porte County Fair drew families, vendors, livestock and congressmen.
U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Granger, was at the fairgrounds Saturday afternoon to speak about the Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act of 2007, legislation pending before the Senate commonly known as the Farm Bill.
"The La Porte County Fair is woven into the fabric of my family's life, and I'm happy to be here," Donnelly said as he addressed the assembled crowd at the Horticulture Building.
The Farm Bill, passed Friday by the House by a vote of 231-191, would create numerous benefits for Indiana's farmers, Donnelly said, referring to it as a "safety net" for farmers.
One benefit, he said, is a provision that would create a Planning Flexibility Pilot Program that would lift guidelines and allow tomato growers in Indiana greater flexibility to plant tomatoes in rotation with other crops.
The program was added to the bill at Donnelly's request.
"We grow more tomatoes in this congressional district than anywhere outside California," Donnelly said.
The program is limited to 10,000 acres in Indiana, Donnelly said, and would allow farmers to plant tomatoes on base acres without giving up the land's base classification that makes it eligible for crop subsidies.
Donnelly also outlined the bill's rural development component, which includes funding for bandwidth development and other economic programs in rural communities.
"We want our children to grow up looking at Indianapolis, Chicago and New York and say, Everything I need is right here in La Porte,'" Donnelly said.
Environmental concerns are addressed in the bill as well.
It guarantees $2 billion in loans and $1.5 billion in production incentives to refineries and fuel production plants that produce ethanol or other renewable fuels. This will help establish America's energy independence, which is necessary for the U.S. to represent itself in negotiations with Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, Donnelly said.
In addition, the bill adds $4.3 billion more for conservation efforts to preserve farmland.
Donnelly said local detractors of the Farm Bill might ask how it benefits urban areas like Michigan City or how it benefits education. He responded that the bill also provides funding for food stamps and nutritional foods in schools.
Because the bill is still new and has yet to pass the Senate, where it could undergo changes, State Rep. Tom Dermody, R-La Porte, said he would need to learn more before he fully supports it, but welcomes aid for farmers.
"I appreciate (Donnelly's) efforts to help farmers, and I'm looking forward to doing all I can at the state level," he said.
"It's something long needed," State Sen. Jim Arnold, D-Michigan City, said. "I think La Porte should be proud of our congressman for taking the bull by its horns."