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Congressman Graves fights for improvements to farm bill

by Kim Fickett
Landmark reporter

For U.S. Congressman Sam Graves, the first step in seeing the new farm bill get passed into legislation came last week with the House of Representatives' overwhelming support of the bill.

Graves, who sat on the Ag Committee and the General Commodity Sub-Committee—the two committees responsible for preparing the farm bill—took great initiative in expanding the definition of value-added agricultural products in the final version of the farm bill.

"This is the most important farm bill we've had lately," said Graves. "This farm bill will not only produce a safety net for low prices, but also constitutes the largest jump forward in supporting value added agriculture."

The expansion of the definition of value-added agricultural products includes physical segregation in the value-added Agricultural Product Market Development Grant (VADG).

VADG is offered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program. It was authorized to encourage independent producers of agricultural commodities to further refine their products, increasing the value to end-users. It is also intended to establish an information resource center to collect, disseminate, coordinate, and provide information on value-added processing to independent producers and processors.

"I was pleased that the conferees agreed to include language that will offer greater incentives to producers who want to increase the productivity and profitability of their farms," stated Graves.

"As farmers, we would much rather depend on higher prices than government programs," said Graves. "Ultimately we're working for better commodities and higher market prices."

While higher market prices remain the target goal, the realization is that many times farmers face the struggle of low prices.

After the last four years of having to await Congress' approval for emergency funding when prices are at an all time low, the new farm bill puts an end to the need for Congress' approval.

The countercyclical program, which used to require Congress' approval for emergency funding, now states that the emergency program will automatically kick in once prices reach an extreme low.

"In the past with the farm bill, farmers have had to depend on Congress for supplemental funding, which makes it harder for farmers to do long range planning or to do anything," explained Graves.

"This change in the program is important to our farmers because as farmers they need a safety net. There are so many things out of their control like input, prices and weather, that we have to provide them a safety net."

While the countercyclical program is not only important to the American farmer, Graves also stated it's important for the American consumer.

"This program change is also important to America because we need food three times a day everyday, and we need to ensure that that supply is there," stated Graves.

"In the U.S. we spend less than 10% of our disposable income on food. Nowhere else in the world is food that affordable as in the U.S.

"In the U.S. we have the luxury of taking our food supply for granted, which is one thing that makes our nation so great. One way we can do that is through a farm program like this farm bill," continued Graves. "Agriculture is the only industry that buys everything retail and sells what is produced wholesale."

According to Graves, the farm bill will be put in front of the Senate for its approval and then go in front of President George W. Bush for his signature.

"After more than two years of House hearings, studies, and meetings on this comprehensive agriculture policy legislation, I believe we are presenting a bill to the House and Senate that reflects the challenges that producers will face in the years to come," said Graves.