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Ag Chairmen Speak Out
Leaders address USA Rice Government Affairs Conference

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Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) addressed rice industry members on Feb. 23 during the opening general session of the USA Rice Federation’s Government Affairs Conference (GAC). The GAC, which has been conducted by USA Rice in Washington, D.C., since 1994, is an annual meeting between rice industry members and key legislative and regulatory officials to discuss industry priorities and concerns.

Lincoln, the daughter of an Arkansas rice farmer, told more than 100 industry members that while she recognizes and respects President Obama’s intent to cut the federal deficit by reducing spending, she disagrees with his proposed cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture budget, which would directly impact agricultural producers.

Lincoln said that the budget can’t be fixed at the expense of American farmers and that agriculture can be part of the solution to get the nation’s weak economy back on track. The senator vowed to fight for $1.5 billion in disaster assistance to farmers affected by crop losses and harvest expenses last year, work to remove trade and travel restrictions on Cuba and push for implementation of the 2008 Farm Bill according to congressional intent.

“There were 82 senators that approved the 2008 Farm Bill, and you can’t get 82 senators to agree on anything in Washington,” Sen. Lincoln quipped.

Concerns with EPA acknowledged
With agricultural producers concerned about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, Lincoln told conference attendees that she believes that it is not within the purview of the EPA to use the existing Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, but rather the role of Congress to develop climate change legislation. Lincoln also acknowledged the concern of producers with EPA efforts to require permits for agricultural pesticide application, noting that farmers have a great respect and appreciation for the land and recognize the importance of conservation – a message that producers should communicate to EPA officials.

Commenting on the nation’s economic health, the senator said the economy could benefit from the removal of trade restrictions with Cuba.

“It’s been 50 years since we’ve had these restrictions in place, and I think we’ve accomplished all that we can during that period. Opening up Cuba trade is the perfect opportunity to provide a boost to the nation’s economy,” she said.

Preparing for 2012 Farm Bill
The state of the economy was also the focus of Chairman Peterson’s remarks. The congressman told industry members that the nation’s burgeoning budget woes may force dramatic spending cuts and that farmers should brace for that reality. He urged agricultural producers to be proactive in working with members of Congress to help shape future farm policy and avoid deeper cuts to farm programs and announced plans to begin hearings this spring in preparation for the 2012 Farm Bill.

“Commodity groups should plan to get back to the House Agriculture Committee this year to talk about the next Farm Bill,” Peterson said, adding that the administration’s proposed 25 percent reduction in direct payments would impact rice producers and lawmakers will need to hear from farmers as they prepare to write the next Farm Bill.

He said he hopes to have the work completed by September 2012.

Peterson also took the opportunity to announce that he would introduce a bill in the House later that day to expand Cuba trade and travel. The bill, H.R.4645, co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 38 lawmakers, was introduced on the house floor that afternoon, as the congressman announced. Peterson told the group that a hearing on the proposed legislation would be held on March 11.

Cuba is a huge potential market for U.S. rice and removing current trade restrictions could open a 400,000 to 600,000 metric ton market for American rice farmers.

Information for this article was provided by the USA Rice Federation.

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