Alabama Farmers Meet With Congressmen
Alabama’s congressional delegation pledged its continued support for agricultural research and farm programs when 250 Alabama Farmers Federation members visited the nation’s capital this spring, but the leaders warned the 2005 budget would likely place strict caps on new spending for agriculture and other programs.Federation President Jerry Newby said preserving funding for the 2002 Farm Bill was a top priority for the farmers who participated in the annual Washington legislative trip.”We’ve been real fortunate. Commodity prices are up this year, and because of that, we have $14 billion that has been saved in the Farm Bill,” Newby said. “We are real happy about that, but we want to make sure our congressmen realize that if the prices go down again, the farmers will need that money back in the bill at a later date.”Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Anniston, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, said he is working to ensure agriculture is treated fairly in the budget process.”I think the Farm Bill itself demonstrated Congress’ commitment to preserving the family farm and emphasizing its importance to us as a nation,” Rogers said. “While I recognize we have a war on terrorism to fight–and we are going to make sure we fully fund it–similarly we are going to fully fund our Farm Bill in this country and maintain the emphasis we’ve had on keeping the family farm strong and successful in America.”Rogers attended a Federation reception for congressional staffers, which featured barbecue from Colbert County pork producer and Federation State Board Member L.O. Bishop. In addition, Rogers along with Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile; Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville; and Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, attended breakfasts with farmers from their respective congressional districts.While in Washington, farmers, Federation staff and Auburn University representatives also met with congressional aides about specific agricultural research projects and farm issues.”We are talking about research that Auburn University and other universities in the state of Alabama are doing to help the farmer be successful on the farm,” Newby said. “This research will help him produce a better crop that’s friendly to the environment, and it will keep him on the farm where he will be able to support his family.”Rogers said farmers in his district are particularly interested in research that could lessen the negative economic impact of Southern pine beetles.”When I had a recent meeting of agricultural leaders in the 3rd District, the number one concern that was expressed to me was their need to make sure we kept an emphasis on pine beetle research and the eradication of the pine beetle problem,” Rogers said. “Since then, I’ve met with folks at the U.S. Department of Agriculture about that and made sure they were comfortable that the funding level they needed for that research was in place. And, in fact, it has been because of the Farm Bill.”The Federation’s agricultural research priorities for the 2005 fiscal year include continued funding for the Alabama Beef Connection, horn fly vaccine research, catfish disease research, catfish genome research, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Dynamics Lab in Auburn, and precision forestry research. In addition, the Federation is seeking funding for alternative crops research in the Wiregrass, a multi-state crop rotation research project and an initiative aimed at developing aquaculture opportunities for producers in the Black Belt.Research, however, wasn’t the only issue on the minds of the Alabama farmers who attended the Washington trip. The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent decision to ban the feeding of broiler litter to cattle is a major concern for some beef and poultry growers. While in Washington, a small group of those producers had an opportunity to meet with FDA officials. Federation National Affairs Director Keith Gray said the meeting was “very informative.” The FDA officials explained the scientific basis for their decision, Gray said, and they were sympathetic to the producers’ concerns about finding an alternative feed source and new uses for poultry litter. The ban will not go into effect until the interim final rule is published in the Federal Register, but the FDA officials did not say when that might happen.Newby said another concern for rural Alabamians is the loss of jobs to foreign countries and the persistence of trade barriers, which block the exportation of agricultural products to some of America’s trading partners. Newby and other Federation leaders discussed these issues with President Bush’s special assistant for agriculture, trade and food assistance during a meeting at the White House.”We appreciate the opportunity to meet with Special Assistant Chuck Connor,” Newby said. “It’s real important to us that the White House know we don’t just need free trade; we need fair trade. America, a lot of times in the past, has gone with the free trade instead of fair trade. We’ve not been able to trade with the countries that we’ve opened our borders to because they’ve not opened their borders to us.”John Maquire of the National Cotton Council echoed Newby’s concerns during a panel discussion that featured national lobbyists for peanuts, cotton, dairy and greenhouse, nursery and sod. He said U.S. producers could benefit from free-trade agreements, but only if America’s trading partners are honest about eliminating trade barriers. For instance, he noted that China’s currency is artificially devalued by 40 percent, which puts U.S. producers and manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage.During the panel discussion, a lawyer specializing in immigration and agricultural labor issues also highlighted the problems with America’s current farm labor laws. Monte Lake, who works with horticulture, greenhouse, nursery and sod organizations, said more than 100 agricultural groups nationwide support a bill that would reform and expand the H-2A guest worker program, making it easier for growers to hire legal migrant workers.Each spring, the Alabama Farmers Federation takes a delegation of farmers to Washington to meet with lawmakers. Last month, the state’s largest farm organization also conducted farm tours for congressional staffers here in Alabama.