THE FARM BILL: WHAT’S NEXT

By Brian DeVore
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Will this be the year of the Farm and Food Bill? As we reported in the Fall 2006 edition of Edible Twin Cities (page 18), Congress is scheduled to develop agricultural legislation in 2007 that will determine for the next five years or so what farmers raise, what kids eat in schools and what labels appear on your chicken noodle soup, among other things.

Unfortunately, up until now the Farm Bill has been more of a raw commodity bill-a piece of policy that benefits international grain traders, factory livestock producers and wealthy landowners, often to the detriment of two key components in our food system: farmers and consumers. An unprecedented coalition of family farm, consumer, environmental and social justice groups is working to make the Farm Bill something that benefits the land, farmers, communities and consumers.

Here in Minnesota, consumers who want a real Farm and Food Bill have a golden opportunity to have their voices heard in Congress. Minnesota is to Congressional farm politics what Wisconsin is to cheese. Senators Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar are on the Senate Agriculture Committee, while Rep. Tim Walz serves on the House equivalent. And Rep. Collin Peterson is the powerful chair of the House Agriculture Committee.

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These and other members of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation need to hear from citizens who eat. A rough draft of the Farm Bill will be sketched out this spring and summer, and Congressional ag leaders are predicting that they will go into conference committee in September to hammer out a final joint House-Senate bill that can be sent to the President. Before the conference committee convenes, both the House and Senate will conduct floor votes, where all members of each chamber vote on Farm Bill legislation. That provides a prime opportunity for you to influence the final product by contacting Representatives and Senators, whether they are on the Ag Committees or not.

The Minnesota Congressional delegation needs to get the message that food- and farmer-friendly programs that currently exist need to be fully funded and implemented. Two examples are the Conservation Security Program and the Farm to Cafeteria initiative. They also need to hear that new proposals that promote local, community-based food systems, such as the New Farm Initiative, should be made part of the 2007 Farm Bill. For more on the New Farm Initiative and how to make your voice heard in Washington, call (612) 722-6377 or visit www.landstewardshipproject.org.

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