FOOD, CONSERVATION, AND ENERGY ACT OF 2008--CONFERENCE REPORT -- (Senate - May 15, 2008)
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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, as this Senate takes up the farm bill conference report, I want to share with my colleagues several important ways that this bill will benefit the farmers and the people of Kentucky.
Agriculture generates $4 billion in cash receipts in Kentucky every year. We rank fourth in the Nation in the number of farms per State, and 54 percent of Kentucky's acreage is farmland. We are the largest beef-cattle producing State east of the Mississippi, and we produce a diverse array of crops. So the contents of this report are very important to Kentucky.
I received a letter this week from the Kentucky Farm Bureau reiterating this bill's importance to Kentucky and America. They wrote, ``While the bill is not perfect, it is a carefully crafted bill ..... that continues to provide a solid foundation for American agriculture to continue production of food and fiber not only for Americans, but the world.''
Because agricultural production varies greatly across my State, Kentucky benefits from a wide array of conservation efforts, including the Conservation Reserve Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, and others.
As a supporter of conservation efforts with a long record of working to protect Kentucky's natural resources, it is important to me that this conference report continues to support these initiatives.
Approximately 50 percent of Kentucky's land is forested, so it was important that this legislation open many USDA conservation programs to forest landowners. That will yield improved air quality, cleaner drinking water, and less soil erosion, among other environmental benefits to our State.
Kentucky also has an interest in the production of renewable fuels; this conference report includes important incentives to spur the growth of this industry as well.
On another note, I am glad the conference committee has seen fit to include my provision addressing the need for better nutrition for our schoolchildren. I cast the deciding vote to save the School Lunch Program in 1995, and educating our kids about the food they eat remains a priority.
This provision calls on USDA to survey what schools are serving to our children. This information will help USDA provide guidance to schools to serve healthier meals and it is sorely needed, as USDA's most recent data on this question is over a decade old.
In the last 30 years, the childhood obesity rate has more than tripled. Today, over 4.5 million American children are facing a lifetime of all the increased health risks that obesity causes. This nutrition provision can be the first step towards reversing that unfortunate trend.
Let me also note that this conference report retains a number of provisions I authored to support Kentucky's largest agricultural product, the horse industry. While the world's eyes focus on Kentucky one day each year for the running of the Kentucky Derby, I point out to my colleagues that the horse industry employs 50,000 Kentuckians and contributes $3.5 billion to our economy year-round. I want to ensure this important part of our farm economy is treated fairly.
On one final topic, I would be remiss if I didn't mention my disappointment that this bill will unfairly punish Kentucky's small farmers by making all farmers with less than 10 base acres ineligible for farm payments. That disproportionately hurts Kentucky because we have such a high proportion of small farms. I am concerned this punitive portion of the bill will have broader consequences than the authors realize and will punish some of those farmers who might be most in need of assistance.
However, the good appears to outweigh the troubling aspects of this conference report, and a lot of Kentuckians will benefit from the many important programs that are promoted and preserved in this bill. I will support it and by doing so, support the hard-working farmers in Kentucky who are feeding our Nation and the world while providing a living for so many citizens in America.
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