Dec 19 2007

Graham Supports Farm Bill Renewal

WASHINGTON – Last week, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved the Food and Energy Security Act of 2007 (Farm Bill).  U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, the only member from South Carolina who serves on the Agriculture Committee in either the House or the Senate, voted in support of the legislation which passed 79-14.

Among the major features:

• Extends commodity programs for producers;

• Reauthorizes conservation, agriculture research, rural development, energy, and food assistance programs;

• Establishes incentives for farmers to invest in the production and conversion of renewable biomass, such as cellulosic ethanol, to energy;

• Establishes a Rural Collaborative Investment program that would bolster economic development in rural regions by providing grants for projects created by local government, business and nonprofit organizations;

• Reauthorizes key programs such as the Emergency Food Assistance Program, the Fruit and Vegetable Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Wetlands Reserve Program, foreign food assistance programs, and rural programs such as community facility funding, broadband service, rural/waste water grants.

“I know how important these programs are to our state’s farmers and communities,” said Graham.  “Agriculture is the second largest industry in South Carolina and our rural communities depend on the development funds included in this bill,” said Graham.  “I am pleased we were able to come together and approve a farm bill that maintains current farm programs and includes increased funding for nutrition, specialty crops, conservation and energy programs.”

“I am especially pleased by the provisions relating to energy programs and our farming community,” said Graham.  “This bill takes important strides towards energy independence and the protection of our environment through the authorization of energy programs that build on the potential of cellulose-based ethanol as an alternative energy source.”

Graham worked to include additional grant programs that could benefit research and training being conducted in South Carolina.  These include expanding research conducted on forage-fed beef systems and a New Era Rural Technology Program that would provide grant money to community colleges for training an agriculture workforce in bio-energy, and the pulp and paper industry.  The legislation also includes a Graham-backed provision that would provide economic adjustment assistance in the amount of 4 cents per pound to textile manufacturers for the modernization of equipment and operations.

Graham noted there are several reform provisions in the bill such as a reduction in payment limits over the life of the bill that would prohibit payments to producers whose adjusted gross income exceeds $750,000 and who earn less than two-thirds of their income from farming.  Under current law, payments are prohibited to producers with incomes above $2.5 million and who make less than three-fourths of their income from farming.  The Senate bill would also ban some farmers from collecting payments for multiple farm businesses.

“This farm bill is not perfect and everyone would admit that there are some things in this bill that they don’t like,” said Graham.  “However, I am proud that through much negotiation an acceptable middle ground was reached.  As a matter of national security, we must support programs that will ensure a reliable and constant food supply for all Americans.”

In addition to broad support in the Senate, the legislation is also backed by various farming groups including the American Farm Bureau, South Carolina Farm Bureau, the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, the National Cotton Council, the South Carolina Cotton Farmers, the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation, and the American Soybean Association.

“Farmers are in the midst of planning for the new crop year and are at a distinct disadvantage in not knowing how farm programs will be structured for the coming year,” said Hugh Weathers, South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture.  “We appreciate Senator Graham's efforts in securing passage of the Senate Bill and look forward to following the process of negotiating a Farm Bill that will provide the security farmers need as they begin planning their intentions for 2008."

The bill will now go to conference committee with the House of Representatives.