FARM, NUTRITION, AND BIOENERGY ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - November 05, 2007)
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Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, I begin by letting everybody know this is a mutual admiration society. Senator Harkin has been a great chairman of the Agriculture Committee. In previous years, back in 2002, when we had this farm bill up for debate, he was chairman then and did a great job of leading us. I think a great product was produced. I was in the House then and had the privilege of working with him as well as other members of this committee, including my good friend, Senator Conrad, about whom I will have more to say about in a minute. It was a good product we produced back then. As chairman for the last 2 years, I had the pleasure of going around the country and holding eight farm bill field hearings as well as a couple of other informal hearings. We tried to extend every courtesy to Senator Harkin. He had staff at each one of those. We had a good working relationship for those 2 years.
During this year, when the seat change took place and Senator Harkin reassumed chairmanship, he extended every single courtesy to me he possibly could. It truly has been a good working relationship, not just on production of this bill but on every other issue we had all year long. Senator Harkin has been a great partner and a great friend for agriculture. That is what this is all about at the end of the day. It is not about the individual but about those farmers we represent and who live and work all across this great country of ours.
I thank Senator Harkin for the courtesies he has extended to me. I thank him for the dialog we have had. Where we have had differences, he is exactly right: We have been able to talk through them and work them out. We have come up with a good product. I do concur with him that if we could have a vote tonight, I would certainly be glad to see this behind us to move to conference and begin the delicate and difficult challenge ahead of conferencing this bill with the House. At the end of the day, with his leadership, we are going to make that happen.
I see our friend, Senator Conrad. He and I forged a good friendship back in 2002, when we were in the conference committee, when I, as a Member of the House, and he, as a Member of this body, agreed on several things that we worked hard together on to make sure were incorporated into the 2002 farm bill.
As we moved into the process of the debate on this farm bill, he also has been a great partner for American agriculture. We have had the opportunity, both with our staffs and without, to have numerous discussions, hours of discussion about the direction in which we ought to go. As I told the Presiding Officer the other day, the one thing I learned about Senator Conrad early on was that when he tells you something, it is like money in the bank. You can know that what he said is his word and he doesn't budge from it. On difficult issues, we have had to compromise and come to agreement. We have done that in a very professional way.
The product of all of that discussion is this farm bill which the three of us have produced and filed here today. It is a good product, and it shows that when we do work together in a bipartisan way--and too often in this body we don't do that, but in this case we have--we can produce what the American people want; that is, a good legislative package.
I rise in support of the bipartisan Food and Energy Security Act of 2007 that was overwhelmingly reported out of the Senate Agriculture Committee on October 25, 2007. This bill is the result of many long hours of hard work on the part of my staff, the staffs of Chairman Harkin and Budget Committee Chairman Conrad.
In addition, I have met regularly with Republican members of the Senate Agriculture Committee and tried to address their thoughts and concerns throughout the process. As a result of those outreach efforts, many of the Republican members on the committee played a critical role in constructing this bill. I particularly thank Senator Crapo for all the hard work he did in crafting the bipartisan conservation title.
In addition, our entire committee worked in a bipartisan fashion and largely was able to accommodate the interests and priorities of almost every member of the Agriculture Committee. I am extremely grateful we were able to report this farm bill out of committee with all but one member of the committee in agreement. It is indeed a luxury to pass a bill out of committee with 20 out of 21 members lending their support. Particularly in this time of increasing political differences and legislative inactivity, it speaks highly of the men and women of our committee that we were able to have a constructive debate that has led to a bipartisan bill that will strengthen American agriculture.
It is my hope and expectation that we will engage in a similarly open, bipartisan process as we consider the farm bill on the floor of the Senate this week and probably into next week. Traditionally, Senate consideration of farm bills has been conducted in an open manner. I see no reason to diverge from that course during this debate.
The substitute amendment we will consider beginning today is an extremely complex piece of legislation. I echo what Senator Harkin said earlier. We have a Finance Committee piece, and then we have the Agriculture Committee piece. They have been joined together. We would not have been able to produce the Agriculture Committee piece without a contribution from the Finance Committee. The work of Senator Baucus and Senator Grassley is extremely important and is melded into the work we did on the Agriculture Committee.
It is complex. Farm bills in and of themselves are extremely complex. When you look at the commodity title where we talk about and use phrases that are not common to most Members of this Senate, most of them don't understand when we start talking about marketing loans or countercyclical payments because they are not used by Members of this body in everyday, ongoing discussions. Likewise, the Finance Committee piece is extremely complex and involves offsets of some programs that most of us don't deal with on a daily basis.
I am hopeful that the process will move in the course that it normally moves along with respect to farm bills.
That is we have a free and open debate, everybody has the opportunity to come in and talk about any interest they have in the farm bill and to be able to offer amendments to any portion of the farm bill.
At the end of the day, when all of the votes are counted, I am very confident we are going to come out of here with a very positive, forward-leaning, reform-minded, forward-thinking farm bill that will allow us to go to conference with the House and come out of that conference with a farm bill that provides a safety net, makes the reforms in the right areas of agricultural policy where we need those reforms, and, at the same time, provides the kind of programs we need in nutrition, in school lunch, in energy, as well as in conservation, research, and the other critical portions of this bill.
We will need to carefully and methodically consider all proposals put forth by all Senators, both on the agricultural and finance-related provisions of the bill. It would be counterproductive to attempt to circumvent our careful deliberative process by restricting the consideration of any proposal that is offered. I believe in an open farm bill debate, and I will not support any circumvention of the normal process with respect to amendments that anyone may want to offer.
It is my sincere hope the Senate will agree with our committee and support this farm bill that will strengthen the Nation's food security, protect the livelihood of our farmers and ranchers, preserve our efforts to remain good stewards of the environment, and enhance our Nation's energy security efforts.
I consider a safe, affordable, and abundant food supply a critical national security interest. I realize many people today are far removed from the farm, and it is hard for them to comprehend the complexities of production agriculture and how vitally important it is to the Nation that our agricultural industry can support the diet of American citizens without relying on imported foods and products.
Free market advocates will say we will always be able to buy what we need from other countries. That is true. But I do not want to take that chance. I do not want to rely on other countries for my food, as we do now for energy.
Senator Harkin just put up some charts that talked about the production of oil. We could have put up similar charts that talk about the production of food. But, at the end of the day, the bottom line is that American farmers and ranchers produce the safest, most abundant, highest quality food supply in the world. When the consumer buys those products at the marketplace, Americans pay less out of every disposable dollar than any other country in the world for that safe, abundant, and high-quality food supply.
Now, despite challenging budgetary constraints, we were able to allocate $3.1 billion in new spending for all farm programs over the life of this bill, thanks in large part to the efforts of Chairman Baucus and Ranking Member GRASSLEY of the Finance Committee. Do I wish we had more resources? Sure. But we find ourselves in a different situation today compared to the last time Congress passed a farm bill.
It is ironic that the strong prices we are experiencing today in farm country would make our jobs more difficult in drafting a new farm bill. That being said, key agricultural priorities, including specialty crops, nutrition, conservation, and energy programs all received additional funding, allowing these critical agricultural sectors to realize unprecedented gains that will stimulate production and benefit not only the farmers and ranchers who produce agricultural products, but also the consumers and food aid participants who enjoy them at an affordable price.
Americans enjoy the safest, most affordable, and most abundant food supply in the world--and all of this being done using less than 1 percent of the Federal budget being spent. As a fiscal conservative, I can support that kind of investment any time.
Let me point out that the largest funding increase in this farm bill goes to nutrition. I think in the last farm bill we spent 28 percent of the budget on the commodity title alone. In this farm bill, we are spending approximately 14 percent on the commodity title. We are increasing the nutrition title by over $5 billion, and that is no small accomplishment. The additional resources were made available by reductions in other areas of the bill, including the commodity and crop insurance programs, which have always been the heart and soul of production agriculture.
Senators should understand the delicate compromise this entails, and further efforts to take funds from the farm safety net could stall this bill. The nutrition title is a vital part of this farm bill, and the committee-passed bill makes important improvements to the Food Stamp Program that have long been on the agenda of the antihunger community.
Senator Harkin alluded to the fact we have increased the asset limit from $2,000 to $3,500. He is exactly right. That is a critical aspect of this bill with regard to the nutrition title. I have been a supporter of trying to increase that to $4,000, which on a cost-of-living scale over the last 20 years that is what it should be. We had hoped to do that. I actually have a bill--it is a stand-alone bill--to do that. But, unfortunately, with the limited funds we have we were not able to do that.
But when we did find some additional money, kind of at the end of the day just before we finished the writing of this bill, Senator Harkin and I agreed, very quickly, that where we ought to put that money is in the nutrition title to make sure we can do things such as make some of the programs permanent, as well as raise the asset limit, and make sure we have a Food Stamp Program which benefits farmers and ranchers as much as it does the beneficiaries that will be meaningful and will be workable.
I especially thank my dear friend, Bill Bolling, the executive director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, for not only his counsel as we went through the preparation of this farm bill, but also for hosting the committee's nutrition hearing at his facility this past April. This provided us a great opportunity to better understand the needs of food banks all across America, as well as hear firsthand testimony from Georgians who rely on the food assistance programs that are an important part of this farm bill.
This bill takes important steps to improve the food purchasing power of food stamp participants and makes the Food Stamp Program more accessible to working families with low incomes. By raising the asset limit, exempting certain IRS-approved savings accounts, increasing the standard deduction, and increasing the minimum benefit for food stamps, this legislation will better enable low-income Americans to afford the food and nutrition they need to lead productive lives.
This bill also substantially increases the Federal funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program from $140 million annually to $250 million annually. These additional resources will help people in need, as well as the local food pantries that provide these important services in communities throughout the country. In addition, the farm bill promotes healthier diets by expanding access to farmers markets, as well as expanding the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to all States by targeting benefits to low-income children.
Again, Senator Harkin is exactly right. We have farmers markets popping up all over. We have a great system in our State of Georgia that is led by our Commissioner of Agriculture, Tommy Irvin, who has made sure we have very active and viable farmers markets in virtually every area of our State and that farms have access to those markets. It is not just in the metropolitan areas, where the price may be a little bit better, but in the rural parts of Georgia.
Where I live, there is not a community I can think of or a county I can think of that does not have a very active and viable farmers market, where we sell fresh fruits and vegetables and whatever is in season. Whether it is watermelons, cantaloupes, or snap beans, the farmers markets have all of those products readily available for the consumer.
The committee has once again wisely decided to include an energy title in this farm bill. That is not by accident. In 2002, the Congress passed a farm bill that for the first time contained an energy title, and we have expanded this important title in the 2007 bill by including programs to stimulate the production of cellulosic crops that can be converted into energy. The Southeast has not been a participant in this arena to date, but with the expansion of these programs to include cellulosic feedstocks, southeastern farmers will hopefully be able to make fuel from agricultural products, all the way from kudzu to peanut hulls.
Mr. President, 100 percent of the ethanol manufactured in this country today comes from corn. We do not grow corn in the southeastern part of our country, nor do we grow it in the western part of our country in the abundance it is grown in the Midwest. There are reasons for that. But we have the ability because of our long growing season both in the West as well as in the Southeast to grow virtually any crop that is out there.
So by providing funding for the additional research, by providing funding for those investors who want to manufacture ethanol from something besides corn, they now are going to have that funding available to them to invest in the cellulosic production of ethanol. At the same time we are going to encourage farmers to think outside the box, to not just grow the crops that automatically come to mind when you think of ``The Farmer in the Dell'' or ``Old MacDonald.''
We are going to have farmers now producing all sorts of alternative crops that can be used in the production of ethanol. I will cite just one instance of that. In Georgia, we have the first cellulosic ethanol plant that has been committed for construction in our part of the world. The investor in this particular cellulosic-producing ethanol facility is going to take a crop we grow with great abundance in the Southeast--and that is pine trees--and he has developed a system that will allow them to take pine trees and convert those pine trees into ethanol. The good news is, when he sticks that pine tree in that cylinder for the manufacture of ethanol, nothing escapes. Nothing comes out in the form of emissions into the air. Everything is used and recycled. So it is an amazing process, and it is exactly the type of entrepreneurial exercise that we are encouraging in this farm bill.
Through the inclusion of this title, we continue to push forward the necessary research, development, and promotion of renewable fuels that will enable America's farmers and ranchers to contribute to the Nation's expanding alternative energy industry. Notably, the energy title receives the largest percentage increase compared to the farm bill baseline, an increase of over $1 billion.
Importantly, this bill takes a fresh look at our commodity programs while continuing the traditional safety net so critical to America's farmers. In addition, we have created a program whereby farmers may choose to manage the inherent risks of agricultural production through a new type of revenue assurance program. I am pleased farmers will have the option to utilize this new Average Crop Revenue Program.
Senator Harkin has been instrumental in crafting this program. Senators Durbin and Brown have been instrumental. I particularly compliment Senator Roberts for the great effort he put into digesting this new program that is extremely complex but has the potential of offering farmers and ranchers a new option. It is one of those options where we as a committee and we as a body have been thinking outside the box relative to programs of agricultural policy that benefit farmers and ranchers. I think with the amendment we have in place now in this bill we are going to encourage farmers and ranchers to think about some alternative to the conventional programs we have always had.
I understand several Members have an interest in offering amendments to further limit payments to the hard-working farmers and ranchers in this country. However, I want the Senate to realize the committee-reported bill includes the most significant reforms to payment limitations we have seen in the history of American farm policy. Any amendment that attempts to make Draconian reforms is going to be met with my strong opposition.
I urge my colleagues to compare this bill with current law and recognize the dramatic changes. As my good friend, Senator Conrad, was quoted in the press the other day as saying, the changes in this bill represent the ``most significant reform'' in the long-fought battle over payment limitations. He is exactly right. He went on further to say:
All payments will be attributed to an actual, living, breathing human [being] rather than some paper entity.
Because now we are going to have attribution. We have eliminated three entity, and we have changed the numbers dramatically.
Many of the proponents of significant reform to agricultural policy will argue that only a small percentage of Americans receive any benefit from farm programs.
Agriculture economists at the University of Georgia recently released a study on the Community Economic Analysis and Impacts of Georgia Cotton Production. This study focused on one cotton-producing county in the southern part of our State. The cotton production in this one county alone has a $36 million impact on U.S. output and almost a $9 million impact on labor income in the United States. Another interesting result from this study was that each dollar received in Government payments generated $1.37 of new tax revenue in the U.S. economy. Let me repeat that. This study concluded that for every dollar received in Government payments, that $1 generated $1.37 of new tax revenue in the U.S. economy.
The following excerpt came from the October edition of ``Southern Farmer'' magazine. By extrapolating the results of the University of Georgia study, the columnist Steve Ford notes:
In summary, if cotton subsidies paid to farmers are $2 billion, $1.2 billion is returned to the federal treasury through tax revenue from economic activity generated by cotton farmers. Economic activity generated by a net investment of $800 million grows the U.S. economy by $28 billion, provides another $800 million in state and local tax revenue, and generates a $7 billion payroll and 230,000 jobs. This investment generates a 3,400 percent return.
Although the study only focused on one small county in Georgia, when expanded, the national impact of the cotton industry and the cotton program is astounding. I hope my colleagues understand our farm program benefits all Americans, not just cotton farmers in south Georgia.
It is vitally important to the farmers and ranchers of Georgia, as well as to farmers and ranchers all across this great Nation, that we uphold the strength of the safety net American agriculture depends on in this farm bill. The agriculture and food sector represents over 15 percent of the gross domestic product of the United States. This bill requires our attention and commitment to the farmers and ranchers who put food on our plates every day. If we go down the path of crippling our farm programs in response to the newspaper editorials, the inevitable result will be the outsourcing of the production of our food and fiber.
While U.S. agriculture exports continue to grow, agriculture imports increased by 10 percent and we are fast approaching a point in time when exports will equal imports. This is the one segment of our economy that has consistently and continually over the last several decades provided a positive balance of trade for our economy. If we let that slip away from us, it is going to be a huge mistake. Let the current energy crisis be a warning sign to every Member of this body. If America becomes as dependent on foreign nations to supply our food and fiber as currently is the case with petroleum, we will threaten the security of this Nation and leave our children's health and diets to the political whims of foreign nations.
Let me say that at the end of the day, the reason we are here is to represent the hard-working men and women who get dirt under their fingernails each and every day to provide the safest, most affordable, and highest quality agriculture products in the world. I hope my colleagues keep those Americans in mind when they debate this critical piece of legislation.
I wish to also discuss several important provisions in the conservation title of the Food and Energy Security Act of 2007. I would like to highlight 5 areas: conservation technical assistance, the Conservation Reserve Wildlife Habitat Program, forest conservation, climate change, and partnerships and cooperation.
U.S. agriculture delivers safe, reliable, high quality food, feed, and fiber to the Nation and to the world, but it also delivers much more. Through their careful stewardship, farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners also deliver clean water, productive wildlife habitat, and healthy landscapes.
In the 1930s, this Nation made a historic commitment to a conservation partnership with farmers and ranchers. Rooted in our national experience with the devastation of soil erosion at that time, the conservation movement began with the purpose of keeping productive topsoil--and a productive agriculture--in place. Conservation technology was harnessed to meet that challenge.
The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 also was historic as it renewed our commitment to the Nation's working lands. Working land--the cropland, grazing land, and forest land that is used to produce our food, feed, and fiber--accounts for nearly 1.3 billion acres, or two-thirds of this Nation's land area. Since the enactment of the 2002 farm bill, conservation measures have been applied on more than 70 million acres of cropland and 125 million acres of grazing land. In addition, more than one million acres of wetlands have been created, restored or enhanced.
In 1935, Congress created the Soil Conservation Service SCS, within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, to lead conservation efforts at the federal level. SCS was renamed the Natural Resources Conservation Service, NRCS, in 1994. NRCS provides technical, scientifically sound advice and assistance to farmers and ranchers to address their local resource concerns. This technical assistance is the foundation of conservation.
In the 1980s, Congress began to seriously focus on conservation. During the 1990s, Congress accelerated the investment in conservation by creating additional programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, EQIP, to share the cost of installing conservation practices with farmers and ranchers. These programs are commonly called financial assistance or cost-share programs. NRCS was given the responsibility of managing most of these programs in addition to maintaining its traditional leadership role in the technical aspects of conservation.
In response to the popularity of the financial assistance programs and their dramatic increases in funding, NRCS has had to focus almost entirely on implementing them. While the financial assistance programs have increased the adoption of conservation practices and awareness of the benefits of conservation across the country, this shift in focus has potential negative consequences for NRCS's ability to maintain its technical base and ensure scientifically valid technical assistance to farmers and ranchers.
Congress is expected to continue to support financial assistance programs well into the future. But in order to help farmers and ranchers put meaningful conservation on the ground, Congress must also maintain NRCS's core technical functions and capabilities--the science, technology development and transfer and resource assessments--that support the programs. Both parts of the portfolio are equally important.
In addition to continuing the investment in financial assistance programs, the Food and Energy Security Act of 2007 also recognizes that the success of the conservation partnership was built on a foundation of proven conservation science, technical assistance, and technology. The legislation updates, clarifies, and consolidates statutes governing technical assistance for easy reference. It defines technical assistance to ensure a common understanding by Congress, stakeholders, farmers and ranchers, and NRCS. The Act reauthorizes the Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act and reaffirms its purpose of informing the direction of conservation policy. It better incorporates monitoring and evaluation into the conservation planning process and conservation programs to reflect increasing demands for a better understanding of the real-world environmental effects of conservation policy and programs.
Especially important to my home State of Georgia and other southeastern states is the creation of a new program within the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). It will help improve wildlife habitat on CRP acres planted to softwood pine trees. The program is called the Conservation Reserve Wildlife Habitat Program.
Currently, there are about 1.5 million CRP acres in pines in the Southeast. Most of these plantings are extremely dense and have few wildlife benefits. The program provides cost-share and incentive payments to landowners to better manage their pine stands, for example, through the appropriate use of thinning and prescribed fire. Wildlife habitat quality can be rapidly restored in pine forests with the use of these and other forest management strategies. This program will be a significant tool to help reverse the decline of northern bobwhite quails, certain songbirds and other at-risk species in the Southeast.
I sincerely thank the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission, National Association of Conservation Districts, and the National Wild Turkey Federation for all of their help developing the program. This was a true grassroots effort.
The Nation's forest resources are a sometimes overlooked but critically important part of our environment and economy. In the United States, approximately 262 million acres of forest are owned by families or individuals. Nearly one million acres of these privately owned forest acres are developed each year. U.S. paper and wood processing generates 1.2 million jobs and $230 billion in annual sales. More than 75 million acres of forests are part of a farm. U.S. forest lands provide two-thirds of the Nation's drinking water, and a single tree can absorb more than 10 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. Unfortunately, 27 million acres of private forest are at risk of insect and disease, and 90 million acres are at risk of wildfire.
The Food and Energy Security Act of 2007 helps private forestland owners improve their land and plan for the future. The conservation title places an increased emphasis on forest resources by defining non-industrial private forest land in the Food Security Act of 1985 and clarifying that technical assistance is available for forest land conservation. Forest management practices and conservation plan development are added to EQIP, as is fire pre-suppression. The Conservation Innovation Grant program encourages forestry projects and emphasizes the development and transfer of innovative conservation technologies.
One particular area I wanted to address in the 2007 farm bill was how agriculture and individual farmers can help tackle climate change. While I am not sure we understand all of the science of climate change, there are some reasonable steps we can take to begin mitigating its effects and ensure agriculture can meaningfully participate in any future emission reduction program developed by Congress.
Agriculture accounts for about 6 percent of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States as measured on a million metric ton carbon equivalent. Since 1995, emissions from the agriculture sector have trended downward. The two primary types of agricultural emissions are methane and nitrous oxide. Methane is released as part of the natural digestive
process of animals and manure management at livestock operations. Fertilizer and manure application to soils are the source of nitrous oxide. Carbon captured and stored in U.S. soils partially offsets these emissions, sequestering about one-tenth of all emissions generated by the agriculture sector.
Currently, there are many land management and farm conservation practices that reduce GHG emissions and/or sequester carbon. Examples include land retirement, conservation tillage, and manure and livestock feed management practices. These practices are supported through existing farm bill conservation programs. But looking ahead to the future, there are additional opportunities for agriculture to further reduce emissions and sequester carbon. USDA estimates carbon uptake in agricultural soils could double by 2012, and over the long term agriculture could sequester 2 to 14 percent more carbon dioxide.
I have been encouraged by Federal, state, and private efforts over the past few years to include agriculture in carbon credit trading programs. However, it is time to go beyond the minimum standards that have been set and develop more robust certification, measurement and verification standards. The key area that needs to be addressed is the measurement and verification of offsets generated by agriculture. Other questions that need to be answered are how to distinguish between emissions mitigation and emissions reductions that would occur anyway, what activities should be eligible, and how the actions are measured, monitored, and verified.
I am very pleased the Food and Energy Security Act of 2007 addresses these issues by directing the Secretary of Agriculture to establish uniform standards; design accounting procedures; establish a protocol to report environmental benefits; establish a registry to report and maintain the benefits; and establish a process to verify that a farmer, rancher or forest land owner has implemented the conservation or land management activity. The Secretary is required to coordinate and leverage existing activities in environmental services markets but to focus first on carbon markets.
For several years, farm, conservation, wildlife and environmental groups have promoted cooperative conservation and debated ways to ``get more bang for the buck'' from the Federal investment in conservation. The 2002 farm bill included an important provision to encourage cooperative conservation through its partnerships and cooperation provisions. Partnerships and cooperation is the next step in locally led conservation as it promotes conservation on a landscape or regional level. Unfortunately, the provisions were not implemented due to a lack of specificity in the bill language regarding the relationship with partners and how funding would flow.
The Farm and Energy Security Act of 2007 resolves these issues and significantly improves partnerships and cooperation. The new provisions authorize the Secretary to undertake a competitive process to designate special projects to address conservation issues related to agricultural and non-industrial private forest land management and production. The Secretary may enter into agreements with eligible partners to provide technical and financial assistance to producers to implement on-the-ground conservation to achieve the objectives of the special project.
The concept of partnerships and cooperation is based on the highly successful Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). In a CREP, a state and the Farm Service Agency agree to focus CRP resources on a specific area within a state to address a specific conservation need. The state usually agrees to provide some funding and technical resources to the CREP. With the new partnerships and cooperation, all conservation programs, not just CRP, could be leveraged to address specific conservation needs and to produce watershed or regional conservation objectives.
I would like to provide an example for how the partnerships and cooperation authority could be used. A cannery has closed, and nearby orchards are going out of business. A local watershed council pulls together several partners, such as a state university, a wildlife organization and an organic growers' cooperative. They agree to work together to improve water quality and wildlife habitat while working with interested local producers to transition their orchards to organic grass-based cattle operations.
The watershed council files an application with USDA proposing to conduct local producer outreach; provide training on transitioning to a new agricultural sector, including organic certification and cattle management workshops; assist with tree removal; and assist in implementing habitat diversity practices with workshops, labor, and seed. The council asks for designation of these resources: $10 million in EQIP; $250,000 in the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP); 1,000 acres of Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CCRP); and 20,000 acres in Grassland Reserve Program easements (GRP).
The State Conservationist and State Executive Director agree with the proposal and set aside the approved resources, which will go to producers participating in the project. When the producer applies for the programs, they certify that they are a project participant. If they are qualified, they bypass the regular program ranking processes and enter into a contract in the identified program(s). Each program in this example stands on its own and all program rules apply. What is different is the streamlined application and the process that works to make the programs seamless in application.
In closing, I would like to repeat a story of an old man down on a hill farm in the South, who sat on his front porch as a newcomer passed by. To make talk, the newcomer said, ``Mister, how does the land lie around here?'' The old man replied, ``Well, I don't know about the land a-lying; it's these real estate people who do the lying.''
W.C. Lowdermilk, the Assistant Chief of the Soil Conservation Service in the 1930s said:
In a very real sense the land does not lie; it bears a record of what men write on it. In a larger sense, a Nation writes its record on the land. This record is easy to read by those who understand the simple language of the land.
Conservation leads to prosperous, healthy societies and stable, self-sufficient countries. It sustains the agricultural productivity that allows for division of labor and the growth and longevity of a society.
In 1938 and 1939, Mr. Lowdermilk studied the record of agriculture in countries where land had been cultivated for many centuries. He sought to learn if the experience of these older civilizations could help in solving the serious soil erosion and land productivity problems in the United States, then struggling with repair of the Dust Bowl and the gullied South. He found that careful land stewardship through terracing, crop rotation and other soil conservation measures enabled societies to flourish for centuries. But neglect of the land, manifested as soil erosion, deforestation, and overgrazing, helped to topple empires and destroy entire civilizations. He concluded that America's future was tied to conservation and that this calling fell to the Nation as well as the farmer and landowner.
Mr. President, I am pleased to have helped develop the conservation title of the Food and Energy Security Act of 2007. I look forward to seeing its resources and programs used by this Nation's farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners for generations to come.
The 2007 Senate farm bill includes a new title not contained in bills in the past of provisions regarding the livestock marketplace. I want to state very clearly that I have tremendous concerns with this title and do not support the vast majority of provisions included.
I know without question that the entire United States Senate is concerned about farmers and ranchers and their ability to succeed in the marketplace. The livestock industry plays a critical role in the health of rural America. Livestock and related industries account for approximately one half of the total farm-gate receipts to U.S. agricultural producers, employ half a million Americans, and create approximately $100 billion in economic activity. It is therefore clearly important that we make certain the livestock industry continues to thrive and make every effort to sustain the economic viability of this critical sector of our economy.
In our efforts to assist constituents in the livestock marketplace, we must exert extreme caution in how we attempt to address the agriculture sector. Our focus must be on expanding the options of producers, rather than restricting their options and penalizing those successful segments of the industry.
It is for this reason that I have serious concerns with some of the provisions in this livestock title. The approach taken in this title is an attempt to regulate the industry to profitability, rather than stimulate innovation and encourage stronger relationships between the various industry segments.
I am pleased that industry--including livestock producers, packers, and retailers--were able to find a compromise on the issue of Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling. While I have long supported a voluntary program, I believe the compromise included in this bill will allow all livestock market participants to benefit from the program without being burdened by unworkable regulations and excessive fines. But outside of this provision, there is very little in this title that I support.
The livestock title includes a provision that would ban the use of mandatory arbitration in livestock contracts unless both parties agree, after the dispute arises, to utilize arbitration. Being from the great State of Georgia, I understand that poultry contract growers must be afforded the right to enter into fair and balanced contracts and to have fair and just means to settle disputes when they arise. But I am concerned that this provision will lead to increased litigation and will not benefit our poultry industry in the long run.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposes the anti-arbitration provisions in the title, because: The long-term effects of such provisions, if enacted, would cause serious damage to the general use and availability of alternative dispute resolution as well as weaken the Federal Arbitration Act.
Wisely, the House of Representatives has taken a different approach to this issue and attempted to strengthen the arbitration process in order to ensure that producers are treated fairly. I prefer the approach utilized by the House, but I recognize that many of the members of the Agriculture Committee view this issue differently.
I also would like to briefly address another provision that greatly troubles me. The livestock title creates a special counsel for agricultural competition at the Department of Agriculture who will absorb all of the responsibilities for enforcing the Packers and Stockyards Act and the Agricultural Fair Practices Act. While I understand the issues that Members
are attempting to address by creating this position, I believe we are creating yet another level of bureaucracy at the Department that may in fact make enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act even more difficult.
The most troubling aspect of this special counsel provision is that he is given the power to both investigate and prosecute violations under the Packers and Stockyards Act and Agricultural Fair Practices Act. What we effectively do in this legislation is create an Office of Inspector General within the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), and then give that office the power to prosecute as well. This is simply bad policy, that sets a bad precedent, and will potentially lead to overzealous prosecutions and confuse the current roles in the Department of Agriculture.
USDA is strongly opposed to this Special Counsel provision because it will alter the current structure of USDA in an attempt to address problems that the Department is already addressing. In fiscal year 2007, USDA has handled more enforcement cases of the Packers and Stockyards Act than in any year in the recent past. As a result of these efforts, violators were assessed civil penalties totaling over $450,000 this past fiscal year. It is evident that GIPSA is making tremendous progress in their enforcement efforts. Rather than build on these recent accomplishments, this provision will likely hamper enforcement efforts at GIPSA and create confusion in the livestock marketplace.
The livestock title of this farm bill attempts to create a one-size-fits-all livestock marketplace where all producers are treated the same regardless of economics or free market principles. This approach is simply not reflective of the industry today. Producers have made tremendous investments to improve the genetics, quality, and grades of their livestock in an effort to command a greater return for their products. And, contrary to the popular sentiment reflected in this livestock title, many producers are experiencing great success in their efforts.
One producer from Mason City, IA, eloquently summed up his view of the livestock marketplace in a letter to me and Senator Harkin. The producer stated: We don't share the grim view of our industry that others hold. We want you to know that our industry is doing well. We are able to prosper under the current law and regulations that apply to our businesses. For many producers, the stability that arises out of the contracts they strike with packing companies are the key to their financial viability, helping them to obtain credit and avoid the harshest consequences of volatility in the markets.
I commend this producer and others like him who have worked hard to secure their position in today's livestock marketplace.
The Georgia Cattlemen's Association also strongly opposes the provisions included in this title. These hard-working men and women have made substantial investments in their businesses in order to compete in today's livestock marketplace. The supposed reforms in this livestock title neglect their hard-fought efforts to secure markets for their superior products. Perhaps 15 years ago, these reforms would have made sense. But today's marketplace has evolved and my Georgia producers and many producers across this country have displayed the American spirit and dedication necessary to evolve with that marketplace and enjoy prosperity.
Rather than reduce the options available to these hard-working Americans, it certainly would make more sense to provide them with every option at their disposal so that they can continue to compete in this evolving marketplace. Attempts to drag the livestock marketplace back to the way business was conducted 15 or 30 years ago will threaten the livelihood of farmers and ranchers, drive down consumer demand for specialized products, and increase costs--not only to packers, but to the producers this livestock title attempts to serve.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
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