Congressman John Barrow (GA-12) yesterday voted for a bipartisan farm bill that will strengthen American agriculture, help families facing high food costs, increase support for land conservation, and encourage energy independence. H. R. 2419, the Farm, Nutrition, and Bioenergy Act, passed the House by a veto-proof vote of 318 to 106. Barrow sits on the House Committee on Agriculture, which produced the bill.
"We worked hard to produce a bill with overwhelming bipartisan support, and I'm proud of the result," said Barrow. "Under the leadership of Chairman Collin Peterson, we were able to pass a bill that will help a lot of folks in my district."
"Congressman Barrow has represented the Southeast and Georgia extremely well throughout the farm bill process," said Agriculture Committee Chairman Peterson. "His dedication to Georgia's farmers and ranchers made him an invaluable member of the coalition that succeeded in passing this historic farm bill, which makes important investments in the farm safety net, renewable energy, conservation, agriculture research, and programs for fruit and vegetable producers."
Among other things, Barrow was responsible for: (1) the inclusion of the Future Farmstead program, which will serve as a model for making and using renewable energy on our farms and ranches; (2) assuring that peanuts and peanut products are included in the Country of Origin Labeling Provisions of the bill, providing more of a safety net for peanut farmers; (3) a new AG research title that will benefit the 12th District, especially Georgia Southern University, Savannah State University, Georgia College and State University, and the University of Georgia; (4) increases in research and labeling for Vidalia onions and other fruit and vegetable growers; (5) the Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) program, which will promote the farming techniques that will sustain Georgia's rural economy into the future. Barrow also strongly supported language in the farm bill that reinstates a large number of African-American farmers who were effectively excluded from the settlement of the landmark discrimination lawsuit brought against the U.S.D.A. 10 years ago.
"Food prices are higher than ever. That's despite the fact that our farmers are the most productive in the world. It's mostly because energy prices are so high. This bill will lower food costs by increasing support for food nutrition programs, and by research that will make our farmers even more productive. It will also help steer us away from food for fuel' and move us toward plant waste for fuel, by supporting the transition from cornstarch-based ethanol to cellulosic ethanol."
The farm bill invests $1 billion in renewable energy technology. It takes another critical step in shifting our reliance away from food such as corn as a source of biofuel to other sources such as switchgrass, wood-waste, and other biomass. In fact, with Congressman Barrow's help, the first commercially viable cellulosic ethanol plant is under construction right now in Congressman Barrow's district, in Treutlen County.
Nearly three-fourths of the farm bill will support nutrition programs that help 38 million American families afford healthy food. Updates to the food stamp provisions will help about 11 million people by 2012. The bill also provides much-needed support to emergency food organizations, such as food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens, by increasing funding by $1.25 billion. The bill also helps schools provide healthy snacks to students by investing $1 billion in snacks in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables rather than junk food. "That's good for our farmers, and it's good for our kids," said Barrow.
Struggling farmers will also receive much needed aid from the legislation. The farm bill reforms disaster assistance by making it a permanent program for farmers with crops stricken by natural disasters such as drought and flood.
To encourage conservation efforts, the farm bill boosts conservation programs that reduce soil erosion, enhance water supplies, improve water and air quality, increase wildlife habitat, and reduce damage caused by floods and other natural disasters by $7.9 million.
Finally, the legislation changes the direct payment system with the most significant reforms in over 30 years. The farm bill reduces direct farm payments by $300 million and cuts federal payments to crop insurance companies that are making windfall profits due to higher crop prices by $5.7 billion.
The Georgia Farm Bureau supported this bill. In a May 14, 2008, letter to Congressman Barrow, Georgia Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall wrote, "This farm bill is important to farmers because it maintains the basic safety net for farmers [and] is good for Georgia and our nation."
"America's farmers feed our nation and the world. They make it possible for us to use much less of our annual income on food than anywhere else in the industrialized world. This bill recognizes their great contribution."